DUP rejects Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal ‘as things stand’ ahead of crunch summit
The DUP has warned Boris Johnson it still cannot back his Brexit deal, just hours before a crucial Brussels summit is due to begin.
Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds said there remained a number of outstanding issues of concern, despite hours of talks with Downing Street officials.
On Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister told Tory MPs that the negotiations were "close to the summit" but that the peak was still "shrouded in mist".
Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, told ambassadors that the deal was almost done, meaning it could be signed off by the weekend.
Johnson, who is due to fly to Brussels on Thursday, needs to have the DUP's 10 MPs on board in order to give him the best possible chance of persuading the House of Commons to vote for the new agreement.
Under the terms of the proposed deal, Northern Ireland would remain in the UK's customs territory, but would still follow EU rules on tariffs and quotas in order to avoid a hard border with Ireland.
That would mean the implementation of a customs border in the Irish Sea – something Johnson has previously ruled out and which the DUP had said they would never accept.
The Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont would also have to give its consent to the new arrangements every four years.
However, differences remain on how that mechanism should apply, with the DUP fearing that they would be outnumbered by nationalist parties.
In another major concession, the Prime Minister has agreed to a "level playing field" with the EU, meaning the UK will agree to align itself with the bloc's standards on the environment, workers’ rights and tax.
In a statement, Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds said: "As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity on VAT.
"We will continue to work with the Government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom."
If Boris Johnson manages to get the DUP's support, the deal is likely to be done at the EU summit and put the MPs for their approval at a special Saturday sitting of the Commons.
He would need to secure 320 votes for it to pass and allow him to keep his pledge of taking the UK out of the EU on 31 October.