Fos­ter re­jects May’s back­stop plan

Prime min­is­ter set for show­down with DUP af­ter party re­jects North-spe­cific deal Jo John­son re­signs as trans­port min­is­ter and calls for sec­ond Brexit ref­er­en­dum

The Irish Times - - Front Page - PAT LEAHY and DE­NIS STAUNTON

British prime min­is­ter Theresa May is set for a de­ci­sive show­down with her DUP al­lies over Brexit af­ter DUP leader Ar­lene Fos­ter rejected Mrs May’s pro­posed deal and ac­cused the prime min­is­ter of break­ing her promises to North­ern Ire­land.

Ms Fos­ter spurned Ms May’s plans to agree a North­ern Ire­land-spe­cific back­stop as part of the pro­posed with­drawal treaty with the EU, which were con­tained in a let­ter sent to the DUP this week.

“This let­ter sug­gests to us that there will be dif­fer­ence be­tween North­ern Ire­land and the rest of the United King­dom and there­fore she’s break­ing her promises,” Ms Fos­ter said last night.

She said she had spo­ken to mem­bers of the British cab­i­net who were also op­posed to the pro­posed deal.

Fu­ri­ous re­ac­tion

The DUP’s fu­ri­ous re­ac­tion to Mrs May’s pro­pos­als raises the prospect of a long-ex­pected show­down be­tween the prime min­is­ter and an al­liance of hard Brex­i­teers in her party along with the DUP, on whose sup­port she de­pends for her ma­jor­ity in the House of Com­mons.

But Down­ing Street rejected claims that Mrs May was pre­par­ing to “be­tray” the DUP by ac­cept­ing a back­stop that could leave North­ern Ire­land un­der dif­fer­ent cus­toms and sin­gle-mar­ket rules to the rest of the UK.

“The prime min­is­ter’s let­ter sets out her com­mit­ment, which she has been ab­so­lutely clear about on any num­ber of oc­ca­sions, to never ac­cept­ing any cir­cum­stances in which the UK is di­vided into two cus­toms ter­ri­to­ries. The gov­ern­ment will not agree any­thing that brings about a hard bor­der on the is­land of Ire­land,” a Down­ing Street spokesman said.

Mrs May’s cab­i­net is ex­pected to meet early next week to con­sider a draft with­drawal agree­ment in­clud­ing a com­pro­mise pro­posal on the back­stop. If min­is­ters back the deal and EU mem­ber states ap­prove it, it could be signed off at a spe­cial EU sum­mit in late Novem­ber, Down­ing Street hopes.

The UK gov­ern­ment main­tains that a UK- wide cus­toms back­stop would re­move the need for a North­ern Ire­land-spe­cific back­stop. But the prime min­is­ter’s let­ter makes clear the back­stop would in­clude North­ern Ire­land-spe­cific re­quire­ments for reg­u­la­tory align­ment with the EU.

The prime min­is­ter’s prospects of win­ning a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity for a Brexit deal dimmed fur­ther yes­ter­day when Jo John­son re­signed as trans­port min­is­ter and called for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

Mr John­son, whose brother Boris was one of the lead­ers of the Leave cam­paign in 2016, said Bri­tain was “bar­relling to­wards an in­co­her­ent Brexit” that would leave the coun­try trapped in a sub­or­di­nate re­la­tion­ship to the EU. He said now that it was clear what leav­ing the EU looked like, British vot­ers should make the fi­nal choice about how to pro­ceed.

In Dublin, Gov­ern­ment sources were re­luc­tant to be drawn into the row be­tween Mrs May and the DUP. How­ever, two se­nior fig­ures ex­pressed sur­prise that Mrs May’s let­ter to the DUP seemed to be com­mit­ting to a North­ern Ire­land-spe­cific back­stop in the with­drawal treaty while si­mul­ta­ne­ously promis­ing the DUP that it would never be used.

One source said the Gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion was that ei­ther a UK-wide back­stop (keep­ing the en­tire UK un­der EU cus­toms rules) or a North­ern Ire­land-spe­cific back­stop was pos­si­ble, but es­sen­tial was a legally en­force­able guar­an­tee to main­tain an open bor­der be­tween North and South un­less and un­til it was achieved un­der a new trad­ing agree­ment.

With­out this, there could be no with­drawal treaty, the source said, as both Mr Varad­kar and Min­is­ter for For­eign Af­fairs Si­mon Coveney, as well as se­nior EU lead­ers, had re­peat­edly made clear.

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