Belfast Telegraph

DUP fury as Tusk says Ireland comes first in negotiations on Brexit

By Kevin Doyle

European Council President Donald Tusk angered the DUP last night after insisting that it would be "Ireland first" in the EU-UK negotiations over Brexit.

In strident comments on the matter, Mr Tusk said: "If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first, before moving to the Irish issue, my response would be: Ireland first."

He was in Dublin meeting the Taoiseach ahead of a crucial EU summit in Brussels on March 22.

He spoke about the failure so far from the UK to come up with a plan to avoid a hard border, or create a "solution" to Brexit.

Mr Tusk said the lack of a solid outline of the future EU-UK relationship, incorporating the Irish border, was hampering progress.

"As long as the UK doesn't present such a solution, it is very difficult to imagine substantive progress in Brexit negotiations", said Mr Tusk after the meeting.

He also said that while the EU respects the result of the Brexit referendum, the same should be said for the British in respecting the Irish vote for the Good Friday Agreement.

"We must recognise the democratic decision taken by Britain to leave the EU in 2016, just as we must recognise the democratic decision made on the island of Ireland in 1998 with all its consequences," said the former Polish prime minister.

"The risk of destabilising the fragile peace process must be avoided at all costs. So we will be firm on this," he added.

Responding to Mr Tusk's remarks, DUP MEP Diane Dodds said his "Ireland first" plan could actually harm Irish businesses.

She said: "Mr Tusk's comments suggest the EU will again hold up the trade talks if the December fall-back option of alignment is not legally translated.

"Far from putting 'Ireland first' this will generate further frustration among Republic of Ireland businesses dependent on access to their primary marketplace in the UK. These include Irish agri-food firms which export around 40% of their produce to Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

"The UK has a clear role to play in bringing forward acceptable proposals. However, if the EU is genuine about finding agreement it must accept this requires the buy-in of both sides."

However, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed Mr Tusk's commitment to avoiding a hard border and protecting Irish interests.

He said: "It is crystal clear that the EU's commitment to protecting the interests of the island of Ireland is immovable.

"The SDLP knows that the only solution that will stop a hard Brexit and a hard border is for full alignment with the single market and the customs union.

"If the British Government and the DUP have another solution, then it's time they put it on the table.

"What is clear today from Mr Tusk's comments, the EU is not messing about."

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