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DUP defends its position as rivals claim it’s been ‘suckered’ in Brexit talks

Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks back through the Peers Lobby after the State Opening of Parliament (Tolga Akmen/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks back through the Peers Lobby after the State Opening of Parliament (Tolga Akmen/PA)
Jim Allister
Jeffrey Donaldson

By Gillian Halliday

A senior DUP figure has defended the party amid accusations that it has been "shafted" by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

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The DUP yesterday found itself under growing pressure following reports that the UK has dropped the party's demand that a Brexit deal should include a veto for the Assembly over whether to stay in an all-island regulatory system.

Recent reports also suggested the PM has sought to revive a proposal by his predecessor Theresa May for Northern Ireland to remain politically in a customs union with the EU, although it would be administered by the UK.

Last night, the DUP's unionist rivals were lining up to criticise the party.

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken claimed the party had been "totally suckered in" by Mr Johnson, while TUV leader Jim Allister said they had been "shafted".

However, the DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson accused critics of "peddling nonsense based on media speculation".

The Lagan Valley MP said any arrangement which "created barriers down the Irish sea" would not have his party's support.

A proposal involving Stormont would have allowed MLAs a vote on whether to opt into the all-island regulatory system in 2021 and whether to remain in it after an initial four-year period.

However, there is speculation the Prime Minister is facing pressure to concede more ground to Brussels in a bid to secure a Brexit deal before the October 31 deadline.

Time is rapidly running out if there is to be an agreement to put to EU leaders to sign off on at their two-day summit starting on Thursday.

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said "technical-level" talks between officials over the weekend had proved "constructive".

Meanwhile, the Tanaiste Simon Coveney urged caution and said "we're not there yet" - but he added that "a deal is possible".

Downing Street confirmed yesterday talks have taken place between the Mr Johnson and the DUP, with a No.10 spokesman saying he would expect those discussions to continue.

Mr Aiken said the DUP had been "misled" by Mr Johnson.

"The DUP have totally been suckered in," he said.

"How can 'two-borders Foster' say that the blood red line would be a regulatory border in the Irish Sea, and that's what they've agreed to?

"Furthermore, now that's part of any discussion point that they've agreed to, there's no going back on those discussions. That's going to be the starting point going forward.

"It is a ridiculous position to have been placed into, and it shows the total ineptitude of the DUP's so-called negotiating position over the last three years."

Mr Allister told yesterday's Radio Ulster Nolan Show that the DUP had been "foolish" by shifting its position on a regulatory border in the Irish Sea, which had resulted it in being "shafted" by the Government.

He told the Belfast Telegraph the removal of the "unionist veto" would have serious implications for Northern Ireland's constitutional future in the UK.

"It is becoming clearer that the DUP were sucked into agreeing a regulatory border in the Irish Sea with the promise of a unionist veto - and once they were sucked in, they are to be shafted," Mr Allister said. "If the unionist veto is to go, if there is to be a customs border as well as a regulatory border, and we are to be put in captivity in the EU and removed essentially from the UK economy and put in the orbit of the economy of the Republic - then it is very serious for the future of the Union," he continued.

Mr Allister called on the DUP to "disavow" the regulatory border in the Irish sea, and take a "step back".

But Sir Jeffrey branded the remarks as unhelpful at a time when unity between unionists is called for.

"This is a time when unionist parties with common ground on Brexit should be working together rather than attacking each other," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "The DUP has led from the front on Brexit whilst others have remained on the sidelines.

"It is deeply disappointing that some fellow unionists are peddling nonsense against the DUP based on media speculation.

"We want to see a sensible and balanced negotiated agreement as we leave the EU, but arrangements that create barriers to trade in the Irish Sea would not be supported by us," Sir Jeffrey added.

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