Belfast Telegraph

DUP reject reports of customs border in Irish Sea

Boris Johnson and DUP leader Arlene Foster
Boris Johnson and DUP leader Arlene Foster
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

DUP leader Arlene Foster has rubbished claims that the UK is set to agree to a Northern Ireland only backstop as "far off the mark".

Mrs Foster was speaking ahead of a further meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Downing Street on Tuesday evening.

Her comments come after the Guardian reported senior sources saying that a draft treaty could be published on Wednesday morning after the UK agreed in principle there will be a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Mrs Foster said that any deal would require the support of both nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland.

"I think there's been a huge amount of speculation since the Prime Minister met with the Taoiseach last Thursday. Some of it so far off the mark you can't even see the mark anymore," she told told the BBC.

"I think that what's important is we stick with our principles that we want to get a deal, but it has to be a deal that respects the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK and that means all of the UK, Northern Ireland included, and that's very important for us."

The DUP leader was asked outright if her party were willing to concede on a customs border in the Irish Sea.

"No, I think it's very important that we say that we must remain within the UK customs union," she replied.

"It's not that we are trying to be negative around any of this, it's a principle that we have, a principle that has always been there and the principle that will forever be there."

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA also ruled out remaining in the UK customs territory but following some EU rules.

"No because we would have no say over those tariffs and we would have no say in relation to how those tariffs were set," Mrs Foster said.

"I think it is important that we recognise why we voted against the backstop, if we go back to what was wrong with the backstop and Theresa May's withdrawal agreement there is no point reinventing that now and just putting that back in again.

"What we have to see is flexibility from the EU, just as we have shown flexibility around the single market regulations."

Mrs Foster said she believed her party had shown "huge flexibility in the understanding we have a consent piece within the Northern Ireland Assembly that we decide whether we stay".

The DUP leader would not say if her party had given ground on customs checks at the Irish border.

"We're in a negotiation, I think it's only right that we give negotiators space and time to do all of this. Everybody knows what our position is on this. That's where we stand. We'll continue to stand there and the Prime Minister knows that's very much the case," she said.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

"People have to get real and have to understand that we're part of the UK, we'll stay part of the UK and there has to be respect for that from the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU."

"We're not under pressure at all because everyone is very clear what our position is. We're not the ones under pressure in this. Not at all."

The DUP leader also refused to say if she trusted Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"This has been put to me many times, what I trust is myself, I trust myself to do what is right for the people of Northern Ireland," Mrs Foster said.

"I don't trust anyone else in these negotiations because I have to trust myself to do what is right for the people of Northern Ireland.

"Everybody knows that if we don't support this deal, which we do want to do by the way, then it doesn't reach the requisite numbers in the House of Commons."

On Tuesday evening the PM's official spokesman said "talks remain constructive but there is more work still to do".

The EU's Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier has said that legal terms on a deal must be agreed by midnight.

Downing Street sources were also downplaying the chances of a breakthrough being imminent and an EU official stressed "talks are ongoing".

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