Belfast Telegraph

DUP warns Theresa May not to bow to Brussels on the Irish border

Arlene Foster says the PM cannot in ‘good conscience’ accept the proposals on the table from the EU.

The DUP has stepped up warnings to Theresa May not to compromise over the Northern Ireland border in her efforts to secure a Brexit deal.

Following three days of talks with key figures in Brussels, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the Prime Minister could not in “good conscience” accept the proposals currently on the table from the EU.

Her intervention came as Mrs May met key Cabinet ministers in Downing Street to brief them on the progress in the Brexit negotiations.

The Prime Minister was reported to have played down the prospects of a breakthrough at next week’s EU summit in Brussels, billed as the “moment of truth” by European Council president Donald Tusk.

In a statement Mrs Foster, whose party props up the Government at Westminster, said the EU plan would effectively mean imposing a trade barrier between the Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“The Prime Minister is a unionist.

“Many of her cabinet colleagues have assured me of their unionism,” she said.

“Therefore, they could not in good conscience recommend a deal which places a trade barrier on United Kingdom businesses moving goods from one part of the Kingdom to another.”

Mrs Foster’s latest shot across the bows came after the party had earlier made clear that it would be prepared to vote against the Budget and other domestic legislation if Mrs May crossed their “red lines”.

I know that she will never sign up to a Brexit deal that compromises our territorial integrity Jeremy Hunt

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted that ministers would not sign up up to any plan which compromised the territorial integrity of the UK by imposing a “border in the Irish Sea”.

“The DUP’s red lines are actually Theresa May’s red lines,” he told BBC News.

“She has made it very, very clear that she will not allow there to be border down the Irish Sea, that the integrity of the United Kingdom must remain intact.

“I know that she will never sign up to a Brexit deal that compromises our territorial integrity.”

However, Mrs Foster said the EU’s proposals would place “an effective one-way turnstile” between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“Trade from Great Britain into Northern Ireland would be in danger of restriction. Indeed, Northern Ireland’s access to any new United Kingdom trade deals would also be regulated by Brussels,” she said.

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Sir John Major has accused Brexiteers of bullying Theresa May (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Suspicions remain among hardline Tory Brexiteers that Mrs May is heading for a compromise which could tie the UK to EU customs arrangements indefinitely – something which Boris Johnson has warned would reduce Britain to a “permanent EU colony”.

Negotiations between the two sides have focused on the proposals for a so-called “backstop” to ensure that there is no return to a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Britain has left the bloc.

However Brexiteers – including Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – are insisting any arrangement which would see the UK effectively remain part of the customs union while negotiations over a free trade deal take place must be strictly time-limited – something the EU has been resisting.

Earlier Brexiteer Cabinet minister Esther McVey pointedly refused to endorse Mrs May’s Chequers blueprint for Brexit, although she insisted the Prime Minister had her full support.

Invited by the BBC to offer her backing to Mrs May’s Chequers plan, the Work and Pensions Secretary said: “I am completely supportive of the Prime Minister.”

In the increasing fraught atmosphere at Westminster, Sir John Major accused Tory Brexiteers of “bullying” Mrs May, saying their behaviour was even worse than that of the Eurosceptics he famously dubbed “bastards” when he was in No 10.

The former prime minister famously branded rebellious Eurosceptics during his premiership “bastards”, but said those making life difficult for Mrs May were even worse.

He told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast: “`Their behaviour was
pretty intolerable, but not nearly as intolerable as the way the present Prime Minister is being treated.”

Meanwhile Tony Blair suggested Labour should vote down whatever deal Mrs May brings back to Parliament in the hope of forcing a second referendum.

He said the Prime Minister was caught in a dilemma between a soft Brexit which would not match the hopes of Leave voters or a more decisive break from Brussels which could hit the economy.

“I would advise them to hold firm against Brexit because either of these
choices are unpalatable,” he said at an event in London hosted by Reuters.

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