Brexit: DUP insists EU must help find solutions to Ireland border issue
The DUP has told the European Union to accept its responsibility to find solutions after Donald Tusk issued a fresh warning to the UK that a transitional deal after Brexit will not happen unless problems over the Irish border are resolved.
European Council president Mr Tusk told MEPs that the UK had created the issue as a result of the Brexit vote and had a duty to find a solution.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Tusk said he welcomed the progress that had been made in the Brexit talks.
"We want to use the positive momentum in these negotiations to finally settle outstanding issues, such as the solution to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland," he said.
In a message that the government could not simply leave it to the Irish and EU to decide what the customs arrangements at the border should be - as some Brexiteers have suggested - Mr Tusk said: "The UK's decision on Brexit has caused the problem and the UK will have to help solve it.
"Without a solution, there will be no withdrawal agreement and no transition.
"Leaders will assess the negotiations in June. In parallel we will start our first talks about the future EU-UK relationship."
Senior officials were meeting in Brussels to hold preliminary discussions about the future relationship for the first time.
Responding to Mr Tusk's statement, DUP MEP Diane Dodds said the European Council President had "resorted to bully-boy tactics".
"He may wish to wash his hands of the border issue but the reality is that the EU has joint responsibility alongside the UK Government to find pragmatic solutions to what are mutual challenges. It is high time Brussels established a practical, hands-on approach to these matters which to date has been glaringly absent," she said.
"Although progress has been made on the terms of the Brexit implementation period, the DUP has made it clear that we have not passed the point of no return for a no deal scenario. The aggressive stance taken by Mr Tusk may grab headlines but it is not in the interests of a workable accommodation, nor does it reflect the economic interests of the Republic of Ireland."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Tusk's comments must serve as a final wake-up call to the British Government on the Irish border.
He said: "Today's statements in the European Parliament must bring an end to that cynical strategy. The comments from Donald Tusk couldn't be clearer - the European Union are not bluffing. They are not bluffing on their commitment that there can be no hardening of the Irish border and they are not bluffing in saying that no deal will be done until this issue is resolved.
"The British Government are therefore left with only one choice. Either accept that a hard border in Ireland can only be avoided if the North remains in full alignment with the single market and customs union or come to the broader economic sense that all of the UK should remain in the customs union and single market."
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Peter Hain said: "The government can no longer continue to duck the question of the Northern Ireland border. As Donald Tusk has made clear, lack of progress on this vital issue now threatens to blow apart the Brexit negotiations.
"The contradiction between not wanting a hard border and being outside of the Single Market and Customs Union has in no way been resolved. And more than a year since negotiations started, the government has offered no credible solutions.
"Ministers know they cannot deliver the Brexit that was promised, and that every Brexit outcome will leave us worse off, but they are refusing to be straight with people."