Dublin and Brussels need to focus on deal making, says DUP

Foster to tell US administration that party is working towards a ‘sensible’ Brexit agreement

The DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she will use her visit to Washington for St Patrick's week events to brief people there that her party was seeking a "sensible" Brexit deal "which works for every part of the United Kingdom as well as our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland".

“It is important that Dublin and Brussels are in deal making mode,” she said. Ms Foster said she would also tell political figures in the US that it was Sinn Féin which was blocking a return to Stormont.

"Whilst Sinn Féin focus on a narrow agenda in Northern Ireland, I will be relaying the frustration amongst people of all backgrounds about a lack of devolution. It is important that decision makers within the United States hear more than just another tired call for a divisive Border poll," she said.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said there was a mounting sense of alarm within the business and farming sectors that the DUP was dragging Northern Ireland towards a no-deal Brexit.


“Whatever no-deal proposals the British government come up with, the fact is that it will be an economic disaster; their own evidence tells us that. The civil service analysis tells us that. The experience of our business, farming industry and SMEs tells us that,” she said. “That is where the DUP have taken us. They have consistently shown a callous disregard for the people who live here.”

The SDLP Brexit spokesman Daniel McCrossan said “the British government are playing chicken on the issue of the Border in an attempt to lay blame elsewhere. But what they need to understand, and fast, is that without a backstop the hardening of the Border is inevitable.”

Alliance Brexit spokesman Stephen Farry said the British plans for no tariffs or checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the Republic in a no-deal Brexit were neither tenable nor sustainable. At best they amounted to a temporary fix, he said.

Ulster Unionist Party MEP Jim Nicholson said the proposed no-deal tariff regime should refocus minds on the importance of getting a good deal done.

EU sources on Wednesday said exempting Northern Ireland goods coming into the Republic from EU tariffs following a no-deal Brexit may not, in fact, be possible.

EU reaction to UK plans?

A European Commission spokesman would say only that the EU was “analysing” the UK plans. But he emphasised that the bloc would apply tariffs on “all trade” from the United Kingdom.

He refused to elaborate on whether that includes Northern Ireland.

“We will carefully analyse the compliance of the UK plan with WTO [World Trade Organisation] law and the EU’s rights thereunder,” said commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.

WTO rules require equal treatment by states of their trading partners, with limited exceptions, and Mr Schinas warned implicitly that the UK announcement may break those rules. If they do the EU might refer the UK to a WTO disputes panel.

“The differential treatment of trade on the island of Ireland and other trade between the EU and the UK,” he said, “raises concerns. And in the event of no deal the union has already made clear that it will apply its normal third country trade regime to all trade with the UK, and accordingly charge MFN [most favoured nation] tariffs on imports from the UK to the EU.

“This is essential for the EU in order to remain a reliable trading partner to the rest of the world, including upholding internationally agreed rules on global trade.”

MFN rates are imposed by the European Union on imports from countries which do not have a free trade agreement.

Another EU spokesman said that the UK was well aware of the EU’s obligations under the World Trade Organisation, implying that London would not expect reciprocation of the tariff gesture.

It is understood that Irish Ambassador to the EU Declan Kelleher raised concerns about the UK plan at the ambassadors’ meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

Mr Schinas also refused to be drawn on whether the UK’s proposed “biosecurity” measures would be regarded as sufficient protection of the all-Ireland meat and agriculture trade.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times