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Local parties split over outcome after day of Brexit brinkmanship

By Suzanne Breen

A catastrophic Cabinet row was averted yesterday as the Prime Minister and her Brexit Secretary reached an eleventh-hour agreement over the terms of a Brexit backstop to avoid a hard border here.

But while rumours circulated at Westminster of David Davis's possible resignation, and then the focus turned to who was most weakened in the power struggle, the situation was considerably calmer on this side of the Irish Sea.

The DUP was wholly content with the Government's backstop plan, and it's easy to see why.

It proposes keeping the entire UK in the customs union, and not just Northern Ireland, until 2021. While there are many staunch Brexiteers in DUP ranks, the party's first priority is preserving the status quo at home.

"As we exit the EU, we must ensure there is no new border in the Irish Sea," said DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds. "We will always act to protect the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.

"The backstop in the technical report issued applies to the entire United Kingdom. That is positive and a step forward."

UUP leader Robin Swann was also satisfied with the proposal for precisely the same reason. "It is welcome that the UK Government is putting forward solutions that do not seek to divide Northern Ireland from the rest of the nation," he said.

"I hope that European Union negotiators will give this proposal full consideration and not simply reject it on sight."

As Mr Swann pointed out, the backstop will only apply if other arrangements can't be agreed.

"The intensity of focus on the backstop makes it look like the only show in town," he noted.

Northern Ireland's two nationalist parties and Alliance were far less impressed with Mrs May's proposal.

Sinn Fein accused the Prime Minister of kicking the Brexit can further down the road. What the British Government had put on the table wasn't good enough, the party argued.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard said: "It is totally unacceptable that, once again, the people of the North are forced to face uncertainty due to the internal disagreements of the Tory cabinet."

The SDLP challenged the Cabinet to stop the internal solutions and to start coming up with long-term workable solutions.

The party argued that we must aim higher than a temporary backstop and the only way to avoid a hard border was to maintain access to the single market and the customs union.

South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna said Mrs May had provided "no reassurances and no plans" for what would happen post-2021.

"There must be an end to this drift and the British Government must once and for all understand the unique set of circumstances that the border presents," she said.

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry doubted if the Government's backstop proposal would be acceptable to the EU. The document left many core issues unaddressed, he warned.

But compared to the dramatic day of Brexit brinkmanship in Westminster, the debate here was markedly muted and low-key.

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