Brexit deal on Ireland was a 'big shock' for the DUP

Written by Tom Freeman and Kevin Schofield on 6 December 2017 in News

Hopes of Brexit deal fade amid calls for 'regulatory alignment' Irish border deal to be extended across the UK

Arlene Foster and Theresa May - PA

DUP leader Arlene Foster has publicly rebuked Prime Minister Theresa May's strategy on the Irish border, claiming the deal brokered with the European Union had come as a "big shock" to her party.

Talks between May and Jean-Claude Juncker ended in deadlock after Foster, whose party holds the balance of power at Westminster, rejected proposals to maintain an invisible border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Under the plans - which had been agreed with the Irish government - Northern Ireland would maintain "regulatory alignment" with the Republic and the rest of the EU.

Speaking to Irish broadcaster RTE, Foster accused the UK Government of withholding details of their plans at the request of Dublin.

She said: "The text landed with us late Monday morning, now that left is in a very difficult position. We had to look at the text, we had to try and understand what the ramifications of the text was, and when we had a chance to do that we realised that in no way could we sign up to that text because essentially it was making a red line down the Irish Sea.

"There's widespread agreement that we cannot break up the United Kingdom in order to satisfy an Irish government that will not take the bona fides of a statement from our own Prime Minister that nobody wants to see a hard border in Ireland.

"There have been reasons given to us as to why we didn't receive the text until late on. One of those reasons apparently was the Irish government wouldn't allow them to share that text and in many ways I can understand that. The important thing is, once we seen that text, we knew that it would not fly for Northern Ireland or for Scotland because when you start separating parts of the UK out, then it has ramifications in other places as well."

She added: "The Irish prime minister can be as unequivocal as he likes, we are also unequivocal in relation to these matters. This is no surprise to anyone, that I'm a unionist and I want to see the retention of the union for political reasons, but also for economic reasons as well. Our biggest market is with Great Britain. 72 per cent of our goods that leave Belfast port go to Great Britain. Why in heaven's name would I cut off that market to look at a smaller market in the Republic of Ireland?

"We don't want to see a hard border, we want to have good relations with our next door neighbours in the Republic of Ireland, but we are not going to cut ourselves off from the rest of the United Kingdom.

"What is important is we now all have a very clear understanding of where we are. We must have a UK that keeps its integrity both constitutionally and economically as well."

Yesterday Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson suggested the agreement on 'regulatory alignment' could be extended across the UK.

This was echoed by Brexit Secretary David Davis in the Commons yesterday.

He said: "The presumption of the discussion was that everything we talked about applied to the whole United Kingdom.

"Alignment isn’t harmonisation, it isn’t having exactly the same rules. It is sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection, all of that sort of thing as well. And that is what we are aiming for."

But a spokesman for the Prime Minister repeatedly refused to confirm that Davis had been speaking on behalf of the Government when he made his remarks.

Today will see the Commons debate amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill relating to peace in Northern Ireland. ​SNP Foreign Affairs and Europe Affairs spokesperson Stephen Gethins said SNP MPs would back the amendments to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

"The return of a hard border in Ireland would be a very serious consequence of Brexit, and the attitude of the UK government  has been deeply irresponsible,"he said.

"This week has proved beyond any doubt that they are clueless and in danger of doing immense damage in relation to Northern Ireland."

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