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Brexit: Government recoils after backlash over 'DUP's veto' on arrangements

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Stephen Barclay
Leo Varadkar

By Kevin Doyle

The idea of giving the DUP an effective veto over Northern Ireland's future relationship with the EU could be watered down, the Brexit Secretary has said.

Stephen Barclay has opened up the possibility of finding a better mechanism for allowing politicians in Northern Ireland to have a say over the region's future.

It comes after a major backlash from other Northern Ireland parties, as well as the Irish Government, to proposals that would see Stormont vote every four years on whether to stay aligned with the EU's single market rules.

The current set-up of the Assembly, which hasn't sat in over two years, would allow the DUP to control the decision.

But Mr Barclay said: "The key issue is the principle of consent, that's why the backstop was rejected three times, that was the concern in terms of both sides in Northern Ireland not approving of the backstop.

"So the key is the principle of consent, now of course in the mechanism, as part of the intensive negotiations we could look at that and discuss that."

The comments open up a potential line of discussion for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who could meet later this week.

Mr Varadkar is expected to hold talks with the PM amid reports that other EU leaders including Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are refusing to meet him.

The French President did speak with Mr Johnson by telephone last night but Downing Street suggested afterwards that they made little progress.

Mr Johnson told his counterpart that the EU should not be lured into the mistaken belief that Brexit will be delayed beyond October 31.

Downing Street warned Brussels it would be an "historic misunderstanding" to believe the so-called Benn Act could prevent a no-deal Brexit, despite being designed to do so.

If a deal is not reached by October 19 then Mr Johnson is legally required to seek an extension.

A Cabinet minister said yesterday that the Government has "no plan" for what might happen if Parliament blocks the UK leaving the EU at the end of the month.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said delivering Brexit on October 31 was the "sole focus" of ministers, who he said would do "absolutely everything in our power" to meet the deadline.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is set to meet the leaders of other Opposition parties early this week to decide on their next steps towards avoiding a no-deal Brexit.

"It's already clear that Johnson's proposal would slash food safety and standards, exposing us to, among other things, chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef, currently banned under EU standards. That's what a Trump Deal Brexit would mean in practice," said Mr Corbyn.

"And on environmental protections, Johnson's proposals would mean the UK ditching the highest standards on things like air pollution or chemical safety," he added.

Meanwhile, suggestions that the UK could try to disrupt the workings of the EU if they were forced into an extension have been rejected by MEPs.

Conservative MP Steve Baker even suggested that the Brexit Party's Nigel Farage could be nominated as the UK's Commissioner. "I think we should appoint somebody with about 20 years' experience... we should appoint somebody who's incredibly well-known throughout the institutions, somebody who can be absolutely relied upon at all times to support our exit from the European Union," he said.

Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald said there was no chance Mr Farage would survive the necessary appointment process. Like nominees from all other 27 member states, he would be subject to an assessment hearing in the European Parliament.

"We haven't seen anything yet if we see Farage before a parliament hearing. It would certainly be a circus, which is not what we need," Ms Fitzgerald said.

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