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A victory today, but No 10 may yet betray DUP

Theresa May listens to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels yesterday
Theresa May listens to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels yesterday
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The first puffs of white smoke from the Brexit negotiations came just after midnight.

A DUP source texted to say Arlene Foster had spoken on the telephone to Theresa May and the deal would be announced at dawn.

The red lines had apparently disappeared and the green light that the Prime Minister had been working for all week was at last switched on.

Just a few hours earlier, the same source had advised caution against the "over-excitement" about the chances of a deal coming from Dublin and Brussels. But the Brexit story has moved at lightning pace this week.

At 5am, Mrs Foster was giving media interviews about the agreement in her Fermanagh home. She hadn't been to bed.

She looked more confident than four days earlier when she stood in Parliament Buildings Stormont setting out her party's position after the British government's original text was leaked.

Then, she appeared more nervous than at any time I've seen her in the past year, including during the worst RHI revelations.

The ever calm Nigel Dodds attempted to ease tensions with a jokey "Bonjour and all that", to the assembled media.

But has the DUP really secured a victory?

It's hard to definitively say as the EU-UK document published yesterday is all things to all men and women.

Like the Good Friday Agreement almost 20 years ago, you can read into it whatever you wish. The DUP says it takes Northern Ireland out of the EU on the same terms as Britain and we won't remain in the single market or customs' union.

But like the contrary character on the stage at the Christmas pantomime, TUV leader Jim Allister is there shouting "Oh no it doesn't!"

And he's not alone.

Many nationalists on social media share his interpretation.

And if Mr Allister is right, and the DUP is wrong, and paragraph 49 means the UK as a whole, and not just Northern Ireland, maintains alignment with single market and customs union rules in the event of no deal, then Brexit won't mean Brexit and there will be numerous unhappy Tory backbenchers.

The DUP was burned by Mrs May on Monday.

Mrs Foster was nervous because she feared London would plough on and the DUP would be shafted.

The question now is whether Downing Street could still sell the party down the river.

Theresa May's 'Dear Northern Ireland' letter outlining six pledges will have as little legal standing as Tony Blair's five promises 19 years ago.

The DUP 's admission that it wanted more time to clarify certain matters, and "cautioned the Prime Minister about proceeding with this agreement in its present form" surely implies private doubt despite the public spin.

At first sight, yesterday's deal appears better news for Dublin and Remainers than for anyone else.

The business community has breathed a collective sigh of relief but understandably wants more detail.

The conflicting nature of the document's pledges means much haggling lies ahead. Win-win situations in politics are rare. Only time will tell if this is an exception.

Belfast Telegraph


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