DUP-Tory relations deteriorate over border proposals

Posted By: November 10, 2018

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, November 10, 2018

RELATIONS between the DUP and Theresa May deteriorated rapidly last night as Arlene Foster said she would not back the British prime minister’s proposals for a Brexit withdrawal deal.

Developments in the aftermath of the publication of a leaked letter to the DUP leadership from the Tory leader raised doubts about the future of the Westminster confidence and supply deal agreed between the two parties 18 months ago.

The letter published by The Times included assurances from Mrs. May that she would not accept any divorce deal which would “break up the UK customs territory” but she conceded that Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances “could require specific alignment solutions in some scenarios”.

According to the DUP, the letter indicated that Northern Ireland-only measures would be contained in the withdrawal deal, despite Mrs. May’s insistence that they would never come into effect.

Mrs. Foster said the correspondence raised “alarm bells” for those who valued The Union and advocated a “proper Brexit for the whole of the UK”.

The agreement on a backstop – a contingency plan that would avoid a hard Border – remains the main obstacle to breaking the deadlock in negotiations between the EU and the UK.

In her letter, Mrs. May described it as “an insurance policy that no-one in the UK or the EU wants or expects to use”.

But the fact that the British government is countenancing the inclusion of a backstop with a ‘border down the Irish Sea’ means the DUP will not back the deal in Westminster.

“No Unionist would be able to support that,” Mrs. Foster said.

“In other words, we [Northern Ireland] will have a different regulatory system from the rest of the United Kingdom and essentially there’s going to be a Border down the Irish Sea.”

The DUP leader said Ms. May would also have “a job of work” getting her cabinet to back her proposals.

She said the Tory leader now needed to decide whether she wanted to pursue her proposals without the support of the DUP’s 10 MPs. Mrs. Foster last night sent a six-page letter to the British prime minister in response.

Sinn Féin Brexit spokesman Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said the British government needed to meet its commitments to a backstop and no hard Border “rather than promises to the DUP”.

“The fact is that Theresa May signed up to the Irish backstop in December and that remains the bottom line in order to prevent a hard Border and safeguard our political and economic stability now and for the future,” he said.

“It cannot be negotiated downwards. It cannot be watered down or bargained off.

SDLP Brexit spokeswoman Claire Hanna said the DUP “can’t feign shock about a Border down the Irish Sea”

She said it was unsurprising that the Tory leader was pushing back on the DUP’s “overzealous demands”.

“The SDLP and others made clear, in advance of the referendum and incessantly since, that the extreme Brexit that the DUP chase would have to have consequences,” she said.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said if the DUP had any influence at Westminster as claimed then “now would be a good time to demonstrate it”

“So far it certainly doesn’t seem to be having much impact over the potentially disastrous inclusion of the backstop in last December’s agreement which now hangs over every element of the Brexit negotiations and threatens the very integrity of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland’s place within it,” he said.

Alliance Brexit spokesman Stephen Farry said the possibility of additional checks down the Irish Sea needed to be “de-dramatized”.

“They are not a threat or change in the constitutional position – some checks already take place,  and Northern Ireland already does many things differently,” he said.

“The majority of people in Northern Ireland see the backstop in pragmatic terms as do most business.”