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Brexit border backstop must be ditched, DUP's Foster will tell PM today

DUP leader's warning on withdrawal deal

Theresa May is greeted by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels yesterday
Theresa May is greeted by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels yesterday
Theresa May
Theresa May meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin
Arlene Foster
Leo Varadkar
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster will today tell the Prime Minister that she must fundamentally change her Brexit deal if the DUP is to support it.

The DUP leader will meet Theresa May in the House of Commons after Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon. Mrs May will later fly to Dublin for talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Speaking from London last night, Mrs Foster said: "My message is simple: we need to remove the backstop. This has been our message from the day a backstop was conceived.

"It is not a case of repackaging or varnishing. Tinkering around the edges will not work.

"Assurances or reassurances are not what we are seeking. We want to see the withdrawal agreement fundamentally changed."

Brussels has offered the Government clarity on the Brexit deal but no renegotiation.

Mrs Foster called on the Prime Minister to "stand up to the EU and robustly defend the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom".

She said she was "very grateful" for the support her party had received in the House of Commons in its opposition to "this dangerous withdrawal agreement".

Asked about Mrs May's future as Tory leader, Mrs Foster said that was "entirely a matter for the Conservative Party", adding: "I am focused on defeating the backstop."

She argued that with London, Dublin and Brussels "guaranteeing no one will build a hard border", a backstop wasn't needed.

"The electorate voted to leave the EU and that vote must be respected. People wanted Parliament to take back control of our money, laws and borders," she said.

"The Prime Minister's flawed withdrawal agreement gifted control back to Brussels. That is why Parliament would have been right to reject it."

The Taoiseach yesterday said that the UK could remove the threat of a no-deal scenario by halting or delaying Brexit.

Mr Varadkar said that, without changing the substance of the withdrawal agreement, he wanted to help give assurances which London may need to ratify it.

"It remains in the hands of the UK to decide that we don't end up in a no-deal scenario," he told the Dail.

"The option is there to revoke Article 50, the option is there to extend Article 50 and, while there may not be a majority for anything, or at least any deal, at the moment in the House of Commons, I do believe that there is a majority that the UK should not be plunged into a no-deal scenario."

He continued: "It is in their hands at any point in time to take the threat of no-deal off the table, either by revoking Article 50 or, if that is a step too far, by extending it."

Mr Varadkar said his Government must now "up the contingency planning" for a no-deal Brexit.

He told TDs: "What we have always done is based our plans on a central case scenario which is that there would be a deal.

"But we have been doing contingency planning for the no deal scenario. We now need to up the contingency planning to execution for no deal."

The Taoiseach said this would involve accelerating the recruitment of extra customs officers, health officials and veterinary officers, and putting in place infrastructure at ports and airports.

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann claimed that Dublin's "continued inflexibility and lack of pragmatism" could precipitate a no-deal Brexit.

"Unionists have genuine concerns about the backstop, which cannot and should not be dismissed," he said. "If we continue on the current trajectory, with the Irish Government showing no flexibility in their approach and the EU insisting on the preservation of the single market at the cost of the UK having to sever its internal market, then I fear that approach could precipitate a no-deal Brexit, which will have repercussions right across these islands."

After meeting Mr Varadkar, the Prime Minister will fly to Brussels this evening ahead of tomorrow's European Council meeting.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson claimed she was heading to Europe with a mindset that will "guarantee she comes back with nothing which is going to alleviate the fears" of his party.

He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that he feared she would come back from talks "with reassurances over the Irish border backstop which don't mean anything when they are put against a legally-binding international agreement".

He said holding and losing a meaningful vote would have strengthened the Prime Minister's bargaining position and he urged her to call the EU's bluff by forcing it to choose between a no-deal Brexit or greater flexibility.

"The pressure is on the EU because, don't forget, the EU say they don't want no-deal either. The EU want our money and there is £39bn resting on it," he said. "Do they really want to have to run around the capitals of Europe trying to fill up the hole in the budget which a no-deal situation would result in?

"They need to have access to our market. Don't forget the EU countries have a £92bn trade surplus with us so they cannot afford the impact which it may have on their jobs, on their factories, on their industry and their economies.

"We are always told the pressure is on Britain, (but) the pressure is on the EU unless we buckle."

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey was also highly critical of Mrs May's decision to cancel the vote. "Enormous damage is being done to the United Kingdom, sadly by its own Government, and our international standing is being systematically eroded," he said.

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