Irish border breakthrough hopes on a knife edge after Arlene Foster tells EU officials her red line still stands
Arlene Foster has insisted the DUP will reject any Brexit deal that throws up economic barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
After talks with chief EU Brexit negotiators including Michel Barnier, the DUP leader said her party would not allow Northern Ireland to go in a "different direction" from the rest of the UK.
Her comments will dampen hopes that a breakthrough on the Irish border issue could be imminent, and serve as a warning to Theresa May, who relies on the 10 DUP MPs to keep her in power.
Both the UK government and Brussels have agreed that the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland must stay open regardless of the outcome of the Brexit talks.
That could see Northern Ireland remain closely tied to EU trade rules as a way of avoiding border checks on goods.
But in the wake of her meeting with Barnier, Foster said: “I am the leader of the Democratic Unionist party. The clue is in the title.
"I am a unionist, I believe in the union of the United Kingdom, all four elements of the United Kingdom...
“We do not want Northern Ireland going off in a different direction from the rest of the UK.”
She added: “Why would we need checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland or Northern Ireland and Great Britain if we were an integral part of the single market of the United Kingdom?"
The Government is expected to update its backstop plans to avoid a hard border in the case of a no-deal Brexit the coming days, however Foster said she had not yet seen any new proposals.
"We cannot talk in a vacuum. We need to see what has been proposed and we will check that against what we have called our red line," she added.
The EU wants Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union as a backstop - but the UK and the DUP have said that would be unnacceptable.
Meanwhile, DUP MP Sammy Wilson suggested the Prime Minister risked losing DUP support in the Commons for a deal if the party is left with too little time to scrutinise the new backstop proposals.
In a strongly-worded warning, he told the BBC’s World at One that the situation could be similar to last December, when the PM was forced to change course late-on in a bid to conclude phase one of talks with the bloc.
He said: “We have made very clear to the Government is that if they don’t want a repeat of December of last year, where they tried to bounce us into accepting arrangements which we haven’t seen, then we have got to see the text and we’ve got to be happy with the text…
“We didn’t want to put the Prime Minister in a difficult position last December, but she left us in a position where as representatives of Northern Ireland, we had to protect the interests of Northern Ireland, and it was embarrassing, I know it was embarrassing, we don’t want that again and we hope the Government has learned that lesson.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said earlier today: “The DUP said that what they were seeking to do was find arrangements that work for everyone. That’s also what the Prime Minister is trying to do.”