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DUP's Foster upbeat as Boris Johnson rejects deal that would split the UK

Arlene Foster before and after her meeting with Boris Johnson
Arlene Foster before and after her meeting with Boris Johnson
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster has said the Prime Minister has ruled out a Northern Ireland-only backstop and any Brexit deal which would break up "the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK".

The DUP leader was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night after holding an hour-long meeting with Boris Johnson in Downing Street.

But Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann expressed concern that a Northern Ireland-only backstop could be under consideration by Downing Street.

Mrs Foster said the Prime Minister had confirmed his rejection of the backstop. While she had been in regular telephone contact with him in recent days, it was "useful to have a face-to-face meeting (to) examine matters in more detail".

Mrs Foster said: "It was a really useful meeting. It helped reinforce our commitment to securing a deal but also was an opportunity for the Prime Minister to rule out any deal which would break up the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK.

"The Prime Minister has ruled it out and will do so again. It wouldn't work, as it would place a customs border between Northern Ireland and our biggest market in Great Britain.

"Also, Parliament has already legislated to make it illegal. There can be no customs barriers erected inside the UK under the Taxation Cross-Border Trade Act 2018."

The DUP leader denied that her party's influence had waned since the Government lost its Parliamentary majority.

"I've heard a few of our opponents saying this. They hate the influence we have because it exposes how impotent they are at delivering for their communities," she said.

"Let's see in the days ahead. The important thing is to get an outcome on Brexit that works and allows our community to move forward."

Mrs Foster said she was "encouraged by the tone and language in Dublin on Monday" when the Prime Minister met the Taoiseach.

The DUP leader was in Brexit meetings until midnight and is set for another round of discussions at Westminster today.

When asked if she had experienced hostility on the streets of London, she said: "Mostly people are very respectful and will ask for a selfie. Of course, there will be the one or two who are very aggressive. I don't travel alone.

"The Met police are very helpful if there are ever any difficulties. I had to report one very aggressive incident as I was walking home from Westminster late one evening."

Meanhile, UUP leader Mr Swann last night expressed concern at "some of the comments from Boris Johnson himself and the soundings that seem to be emanating from informed sources close to the Government".

He said: "It is unclear whether somebody is kite-flying to see what may be acceptable to unionists or if it accurately reflects the thinking of some in government.

"Just to be absolutely clear, the backstop cannot form part of the solution. It's an undisguised assault on the Belfast Agreement. To countenance this level of interference in the principle of consent would make the Belfast Agreement redundant.

"The choice is clear - protect the Belfast Agreement or sacrifice it for the sake of the backstop. I certainly wouldn't support the latter and neither should the British Government, no matter what the Irish government claims.

"There are alternatives to the backstop, we have suggested a potential solution, so we feel all energies and efforts should be directed towards agreeing them."

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has reportedly told Government officials to explore the possibility of building a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland. Documents seen by Channel 4 News reveal that both the Treasury and Department for Transport have been asked for advice on the costs and risks of such a project.

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