Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: Gaps remain to reach a Brexit deal

DUP leader Arlene Foster at Westminster on Tuesday. Credit: BBC
DUP leader Arlene Foster at Westminster on Tuesday. Credit: BBC
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster has said that “gaps remain” and “further work is required” to reach a Brexit deal after holding talks with the Prime Minister in Downing Street on Tuesday night.

Mrs Foster and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds held a 90 minute meeting with Boris Johnson as intensive efforts continue to reach an agreement ahead of tomorrow’s crunch EU summit.

After emerging from Number 10, Mrs Foster said: “We respect the fact negotiations are ongoing therefore we cannot give a detailed commentary.

“But it would be fair to indicate that gaps remain and further work is required.”

Sinn Fein has called on people to join “widespread demonstrations” tonight “against any hardening of the border as a result of the Tory/DUP Brexit”.

With the Government racing against time to reach a deal before the EU summit, the DUP leader dismissed speculation about a Northern Ireland only backstop.

London’s proposed plan would see Northern Ireland remaining in the UK’s customs territory but operating the EU’s rules and procedures on tariffs.

The Taoiseach has said progress is being made in talks taking place between the EU and UK in Brussels.

The Prime Minister is to update Cabinet this morning.

If a treaty is to be approved by EU leaders, then the full details must be released by today.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson told the Belfast Teleraph: “We want a sensible deal which works for every part of the UK as well as our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.

“The Prime Minister knows we will support the right deal but he also knows we will not support just any deal. He knows anything which undermines the integrity of the Union cannot be supported.

“We will work with others to find a resolution to Brexit that allows us to get on with the job of getting Northern Ireland moving again.”

Mr Robinson added: “The arithmetic of Parliament means that Northern Ireland has incredible influence over whether a deal can command the confidence of the House.

“We will be using that leverage to get the best deal and stand up for Northern Ireland.”

Mrs Foster said that any Brexit deal must respect the economic and constitutional place of Northern Ireland within the UK and that speculation about the backstop ws “far off the mark”.

DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson (Michael McHugh/PA)
DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson (Michael McHugh/PA)

She told RTE: “When I hear talk of the Northern Ireland backstop as I did in your headlines, I think the things are very far off the mark in terms of all of that,

“What is important to say is that we do want to get a deal but it has to be a deal that respects the constitutional and economic place of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and there has to be consent.

“There has to be consent which is in accordance with the Belfast Agreement, in other words there has to be consent from the nationalist community and the Unionist community and so those things are very important,” she said.

The DUP leader stressed that she would not accept a border in the Irish Sea.

House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg has said he would be “very surprised” if the DUP did not sign up to the new government proposals on Brexit.

However, he refused to rule out the government proceeding on any deal without the party’s support.

Mr Rees-Mogg told radio station LBC that a deal was close and he believed there was the support in the Commons to find agreement.

Asked if the Government would try to push through a deal without the DUP’s support, he said: “We are a unionist party. People make it sound as if we are to drag [the DUP] along kicking and screaming.

“The Conservative Party is not going to do something that is a risk to the UK.

Leo Varadkar admitted that the gap in the Brexit negotiations between the EU and UK teams remained “significant”, particularly on customs issues.

But he insisted that negotiations were moving in the ”right direction”.

“Whether we will be able to conclude a revised Withdrawal Agreement, which is an international treaty, in time for the summit, that’s as of now unclear,” he added.

“The Prime Minster said to me if we can come to an agreement between the EU and the UK that he was confident he would be able to get it through the House of Commons.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion said there was “widespread concern” about the “catastrophic damage” Brexit would cause in border areas.

The Foyle MP said: “Border Communities Against Brexit will be holding a series of protests against any hardening of the border right along the whole length of the border at 38 crossing points.”

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