Reports DUP are shifting Brexit red lines are nonsense, says Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster has denied reports that the party is prepared "to shift its red lines" on Brexit.
A front page article in yesterday's Times claimed the DUP could accept Northern Ireland abiding by some European Union rules post-Brexit as part of a new deal to replace the backstop.
It suggested the DUP had also privately said it would drop its objection to regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, something it had previously said was unacceptable since it would separate Northern Ireland politically and economically from the mainland.
The Times, citing unidentified sources, wrote that, in return for such concessions, Brussels would abandon its insistence on Northern Ireland remaining in a customs union with the EU.
Mrs Foster, though, said "the UK must leave as one nation".
She added: "We are keen to see a sensible deal but not one that divides the internal market of the UK. We will not support any arrangements that create a barrier to East-West trade. Anonymous sources lead to nonsense stories."
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was not aware of any change in the DUP's position.
He added: "As far as the Irish government is concerned our position hasn't changed. We believe that the best solution is the Withdrawal Agreement including the Irish protocol and the backstop.
"We are, of course, open to alternative arrangements.
"We've always said that we were and we're in contact with the British government and also the European Commission to explore ideas around that.
"I have to say what's been put forward so far falls very well short of what we would need.
"There is ongoing contact with the DUP and indeed the other political parties in Northern Ireland."
DUP MP Jim Shannon confirmed that talks were ongoing on various levels, but that there had been "absolutely no deviation" in the DUP stance.
The Strangford MP said: "As far as I see it the issue is clear. I have spoken to Arlene, I have spoken to Nigel Dodds. There is absolutely no deviation. Nothing has changed.
"I would be hoping reality will kick in with Leo Varadkar. Boris Johnson has assured us that there is no deviation in his stance on the backstop. That's not to say discussions are not ongoing, but we are still very clear in our views."
Sinn Fein claimed the report shows the DUP are feeling the heat at Westminster. Foyle MP Elisha McCallion said: "The DUP are clearly under pressure from the agri-food industry and farmers about the devastation a no-deal Brexit will bring.
"Other sectors such as our manufacturers, business and small to medium enterprises, our community and voluntary sectors need to increase the pressure on the DUP to end their support for the Tory Brexiteers hell-bent on dragging us out of the EU and driving our economy over a cliff.
"The backstop is the only insurance policy for the people of the north against a Tory Brexit. Boris Johnson voted for it in the British House of Commons.
"The DUP have displayed an incredible naivety in accepting anything Boris Johnson promises from one day to the next."
SDLP Brexit spokesperson Daniel McCrossan said his party would welcome a "more pragmatic" approach from the DUP.
"There are a limited number of outcomes to the Brexit catastrophe we're enduring," he said.
"Either London refuses to compromise, supported by the DUP, leaving people, businesses and communities here to suffer the consequences of a hard Brexit and a hard border on this island, or there is a softening of red lines and we reach an outcome where Northern Ireland remains in the customs union and single market allowing the free flow of people, goods and services across this island.
"I don't think we should be attacking parties that are on the path to compromise and I would welcome a more pragmatic approach from the DUP that sees a resolution that protects the interests of people here."
Earlier this week, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds reiterated the party's opposition to the backstop, but added that there could be some "arrangements" if they were to benefit Northern Ireland, the Republic and the EU.
But any such "arrangements", he added, would require the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Earlier yesterday, DUP Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson dismissed the report as "bad journalism", adding: "I can enlighten you on the Times story, and the Times story is nonsense."