Belfast Telegraph

Foster rejects claims DUP would consider 'soft Brexit' if UK stays in Customs Union

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

DUP leader Arlene Foster has reacted angrily to claims her party would be open to a softer Brexit deal if the whole of the UK remained in the Customs Union.

Mrs Foster was responding to claims reported to have come from senior DUP sources in The Times on Friday.

The newspaper claimed a DUP source said that the party may be willing to sign up to a Norway-style Brexit deal if the backstop is removed.

A Norway-style deal would give the UK access to the single market by joining the European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Area.

However, the DUP leader hit out at the report claiming the story was "inaccurate" and "designed to undermine efforts to get the necessary changes to the withdrawal agreement".

Brexit negotiations have been repeatedly stifled by the backstop, a plan aiming to prevent a hard border in Ireland.

The DUP say the plan would create a trade border in the Irish Sea and leave Northern Ireland tied to Brussels indefinitely.

Two senior party sources said the DUP's opposition to Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal was solely based on the backstop.

“Our priority is to try and get the current withdrawal agreement altered but we recognise given the scale of the defeat this week that reviving it will be a challenge,” one DUP MP allegedly told The Times.

“If that cannot be done, we are going to have to look at other options and that could include a softer Brexit as long as it applied to the whole of the United Kingdom. We are open to discussions to try and find a way forward as long as it respects Northern Ireland as an integral part of the UK.”

The Times claimed that another senior DUP source told the newspaper that the party wanted a solution "that encompasses the whole of the UK that would tick the unionist box".

Mrs Foster said the story was "an attempt to cause division" and that "such tactics are not new to us and as in the past will not succeed".

"The Prime Minister is very clear on our position. We have been consistent that for us it is the backstop which needs to be dealt with," the DUP leader said.

"For the future we want an agreement which returns control of our money, our laws and our borders through a U.K. wide free trade arrangement with the EU."

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