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Brexit breakthrough: UK handcuffed to EU with Brussels holding the keys and Northern Ireland dependent on Dublin, says DUP's Arlene Foster

Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

DUP leader Arlene Foster says the UK would be shackled to the EU without a clean exit and Northern Ireland dependent on Dublin should trade barriers be placed in the Irish Sea.

The UK Government has confirmed a draft agreement has been reached with the EU. Theresa May is meeting with ministers and a full Cabinet meeting is to be held on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the matter and decide next steps.

The Sun newspaper reports five senior ministers are backing the Prime Minister.

It is understood the deal includes a UK-wide backstop with "specific provisions for Northern Ireland" and a review mechanism.

ITV political editor Robert Peston said the text - thought to be around 600 pages long - takes the "swimming pool" approach. With the UK in the shallow end and Northern Ireland in the deep to ensure frictionless trace on the island of Ireland.

The whole of the UK would stay in the customs union if a long-term trading relationship between the UK and EU isn't negotiated and implemented by the end of 2020.

But in addition to being in the customs union, Northern Ireland would also remain in much of the single market and be forced to follow all EU directives and laws in relation to goods flowing back and forth between NI and the ROI.

"An agreement which places new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will fundamentally undermine the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. That is not acceptable," Arlene Foster said.

"Over time, such a deal will weaken the Union.  No unionist Prime Minister could argue that such a deal is in the national interest."

The Prime Minister must win the support of the Cabinet and the House of Commons. Every individual vote will count. Arlene Foster

The Daily Telegraph reports Attorney General Geoffrey Cox told Cabinet Northern Ireland will be in a "different regulatory regime" under the customs backstop and "subject to EU law and institutions".

He warned ministers that the plans may "cross a line" for the DUP and those concerned about the future of the Union, adding that the decision of the Cabinet is ultimately about how much "risk they are prepared to take".

Theresa May depends on the DUP's MPs to prop up her minority government.

The Irish Cabinet is to meet on Wednesday morning to discuss the text.

Arlene Foster said that while she wanted a sensible deal that would not mean they would accept any arrangement.

"It would be democratically unacceptable for Northern Ireland trade rules to be set by Brussels.  Northern Ireland would have no representation in Brussels and would be dependent on a Dublin government speaking up for our core industries.

"The withdrawal agreement is a legally binding treaty which will shape our nation for the next generation.  It will bind future governments and Prime Ministers. 

"Without a clean exit clause, the United Kingdom would be handcuffed to the European Union with Brussels holding the keys.  At least the United Kingdom people could vote to leave the European Union.

"I am heartened by friends of the Union on both sides of the House and across the United Kingdom who have pledged to stand with the DUP in opposing a deal which weakens the Union and hands control to Brussels rather than Parliament. 

"These are momentous days and the decisions being taken will have long-lasting ramifications.  The Prime Minister must win the support of the Cabinet and the House of Commons. Every individual vote will count.”

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