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Foster: If EU won't negotiate on backstop, UK faces no-deal Brexit

Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said that the UK faces leaving the EU without a Brexit deal if leaders do not agree to reopen the withdrawal agreement.

Mrs Foster said that if the Irish border backstop clause is not removed from Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal then the agreement will not get through Parliament.

She was speaking after meeting the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier on Thursday with a delegation that included DUP MEP Diane Dodds and Tory MPs Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Patterson.

The meeting took place after EU leaders granted the UK a Brexit extension until October 31 on Wednesday night.

If the Government can get support for its Brexit deal before Halloween, then the UK will be able to leave the EU at an earlier date.

Mrs Foster told the Press Association that Mrs May should use the extra six months available to reopen the backstop issue that has long been opposed by the DUP, who says it would create a trade border in the Irish Sea.

She said that if the EU wanted the UK to leave with a Brexit deal then they would have to reopen the withdrawal agreement.

"If they want to get a deal they're going to have to deal with the backstop because the only thing that has got through Parliament with the majority is the fact of dealing with the backstop," the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said.

"And if it's dealt with in the appropriate fashion then the withdrawal agreement will go through and they will have a deal. But if they continue on the road of 'we are not reopening the treaty' then we are heading inexorably towards a no-deal scenario.

"That's something which I really regret because we want to get a deal that is good for the whole of the UK.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

"Instead of this intransigence, actually what they should be using the next number of months to do is look at ways to deal with that backstop."

Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill accused the DUP of "working against the best interests of people the party claims to represent".

Mrs Foster had accused the EU of ignoring the views of unionists in Northern Ireland during the Brexit negotiations.

“I’m sure the irony of Arlene Foster’s comments won’t be lost on those unionists who voted on a cross-community majority basis against Brexit in the first place,” Ms O’Neill said.

“The DUP should drop the pretence of defending anyone’s interests but their own because it is abundantly clear that they are now actively working against the best interests of the people and industries they claim to represent.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the Brexit extension and called on the Government to revoke Article 50, while UUP leader Robin Swann said that the backstop undermines the principle of consent in the Good Friday Agreement.

"No matter what way it is shaped the backstop is a direct attack on the bedrock of the Belfast Agreement and unless a new approach is adopted, Mrs May`s woes will continue," Mr Swann said.

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