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Brexit deal: DUP says Johnson's agreement isn't in Northern Ireland's interests and undermines Union

Party and business leaders react to draft deal replacing the backstop

Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The DUP has said it will not support the Prime Minister's new Brexit deal with the EU, warning the agreement was economically harmful, not in the long term interests of Northern Ireland and undermined the integrity of the Union.

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It also said the principles in the Belfast Agreement on consent had been "abandoned in favour of majority rule on this single issue alone".

The agreement still has to be ratified by Parliament and Boris Johnson faces an uphill task of getting the numbers required during a special sitting of Parliament on Saturday.

Mr Johnson said it was a "great new deal" which allowed the UK to leave the EU customs union as one. But EU's rules and procedures on tariffs will apply in Northern Ireland for goods at risk of entering the single market. It also effectively put a border down the Irish Sea in terms of regulations.

The agreement states there would continue to be "unfettered" access for goods from NI moving into the UK and "the importance of maintaining the integral place of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom’s internal market".

Number 10 said the deal protected the Union, while Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said peace in Northern Ireland was central to their work.

Chief Executive of Belfast Chamber Simon Hamilton said: "The announcement that the Prime Minister has reached an agreement on a deal with the European Union is encouraging." 

Businesses in Belfast, like those across Northern Ireland, want a deal and an end to the uncertainty that has undoubtedly harmed our economy. Simon Hamilton

The Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland also cautiously welcomed the breakthrough.

“If the deal is ratified, it is crucial that everything is done to reduce the administrative burden on our small firms, in a way which avoids increasing costs and complexity", Policy Chair Tina McKenzie said.

Earlier, Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the deal represented a poorer outcome for Northern Ireland than what Theresa May's withdrawal agreement with the backstop did.

"A good deal for hard Brexiteers. A bad deal for advocates of a soft Brexit and Remainers," he tweeted.

"Significantly worse for the NI economy than May's deal. More bureaucracy, red tape and complexity. Adding to the costs of doing business."

He asked if the deal meant that Northern Ireland was left as a "spectator on any UK trade deals".

Meanwhile Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said he gave “a guarded welcome to the agreement between the UK and the EU”.

"It removes the risk of a catastrophic no deal and set a new floor below which NI could not fall providing a solid foundation from which to press up from should the UK and EU not speedily conclude a new relationship," he said.

But he said there was the potential for “significant new frictions for some trade to Northern Ireland from Great Britain and a complex and costly regime to manage tariffs for goods travelling through Northern Ireland to the EU”.

People were promised unicorns in 2016: now, they're being offered donkeys. Naomi Long

Elsewhere Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the fact that an agreement has been reached.

"There is no such thing as a good Brexit. Brexit is being foisted on the north of Ireland against the democratic wishes of the people," she said.

She said her party had insisted on special status, the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and for the avoidance of a hard border.

"We have also insisted that no veto can be given to unionism, Ireland’s interests must be protected.

"Any deal can only mitigate the worst effects of Brexit; a least worst option."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said the new document appeared more clunky and complex than the May deal and risked further uncertainty, describing it as a "shameful state to be in".

"Instead of the easiest deal in history, we now face a choice between a catastrophic no deal and a worse deal than the backstop and one which will struggle to pass in Parliament," she tweeted.

"People were promised unicorns in 2016: now, they're being offered donkeys."

SDLP leader Column Eastwood said remaining in the EU was still the best option. He said he was not as good as the May deal but better than no deal.

He cautioned people to "stay calm".

"If we end up in a no-deal situation we will end up in a very bad situation and we could yet end up there," he told the BBC.

He urged the DUP to "think carefully" on their responsibilities saying they shouldn't have supported Brexit or should have considered a softer Brexit.

"One thing this deal does, it protects us from a hardening of the border... and that is a good think .. but we have to try and get more out of this."

It puts us in a waiting room for Irish unity. Jim Allister

UUP leader Robin Swann said the deal places Northern Ireland "on the window ledge of the Union".

“Unionists throughout the United Kingdom need to think long and hard about the future of the Union when they cast their vote in Parliament on this deal. What`s more important? The pursuit of a puritanical Brexit or the security and integrity of the Union. This could be a disastrous chapter in the history of Unionism,” he said.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the Union had been betrayed and it would be better to leave the EU without a deal.  He said the deal put Northern Ireland "in the waiting room" of Irish unity pitching the country in the clutches of EU/Republic in a state of vassalage.

“This is a disastrous deal for Northern Ireland’s position as an integral part of the United Kingdom and for our economy, particularly as the rest of the UK can move on to thrive outside the EU, but not Northern Ireland."

The DUP had been engaged in a series of meetings at Number 10 over the past week.

This drives a coach and horses through the professed sanctity of the Belfast Agreement. DUP

In a statement, the party said it would not support the Prime Minister's deal when it is put to parliament on Saturday.

"The Democratic Unionist Party has worked since the referendum result to secure a negotiated deal as we leave the European Union," it said.

"We have been consistent that we will only ever consider supporting arrangements that are in Northern Ireland’s long-term economic and constitutional interests and protect the integrity of the Union."

"Our main route of trade on an east –west basis will be subject to rules of the European Union Customs Union, notwithstanding that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK Customs territory."

The statement continued: "All goods would be subject to a customs check regime regardless of their final destination.  The default position, even for goods travelling from one part of our country to another, is that they are considered under the EU Customs code unless otherwise agreed.

"We recognise that only those goods ultimately destined for the Republic of Ireland would be subject to tariffs but the reality remains that the EU would have a veto on which goods would be exempt and which would not under the Joint Committee arrangements.  This is not acceptable within the internal borders of the United Kingdom."

The party said Northern Ireland consumers would face increased costs, and potentially less choice due to the checks needed "in order to facilitate the European Union".

"Throughout all the discussions on these issues we have been clear that Northern Ireland should not be subjected to administrative burdens which will be entrenched for the future."

On VAT, the party said, Northern Ireland would be bound into arrangements that the rest of the United Kingdom would not.

"There is a real danger that over time Northern Ireland will start to diverge across VAT and Customs and without broad support from the democratic representatives of the people of Northern Ireland," the party said.

"While some progress has been made in recognising the issue of consent, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland will have no say on whether Northern Ireland should enter these arrangements."

The deal, the party said, drives a "coach and horses through the Good Friday Agreement.

"The Government has departed from the principle that these arrangements must be subject to the consent of both unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland.  These arrangements would be subject to a rolling review but again the principles of the Belfast Agreement on consent have been abandoned in favour of majority rule on this single issue alone.

"These arrangements will become the settled position in these areas for Northern Ireland. This drives a coach and horses through the professed sanctity of the Belfast Agreement.

"For all of these reasons it is our view that these arrangements would not be in Northern Ireland’s long term interests.  Saturday’s vote in Parliament on the proposals will only be the start of a long process to get any Withdrawal Agreement Bill through the House of Common."

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