Arlene Foster does not rule out DUP signing up to a softer Brexit

No splits in Democratic Unionist Party, leader insists in response to reports

‘We have a very simple way of judging all of this. It’s what will protect the union,’ DUP leader Arlene Foster said. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

‘We have a very simple way of judging all of this. It’s what will protect the union,’ DUP leader Arlene Foster said. Photograph: David Young/PA Wire

 

The DUP leader Arlene Foster has not ruled out the party signing up to a “softer Brexit” although there appears to be a growing feeling within the party that the current impasse will be temporarily resolved through an extension of the UK’s membership of the European Union.

There were hints from DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and from party Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson on Friday that the party could tolerate a withdrawal agreement that allowed for Britain and Northern Ireland remaining in the customs unions and aligned with the single market if it got rid of the backstop.

When Ms Foster spoke to reporters in Belfast on Monday, she was also careful not to dismiss the idea of a softer Brexit if it ruled out the backstop.

“We have a very simple way of judging all of this. It’s what will protect the union and what will respect the referendum result and that’s always been our position,” she said.

“We have been very clear about our one red line and that remains the position. It’s of no surprise to anyone that the union will always be our first priority and that still remains the case.”

Asked if she would prefer staying in the EU to the current withdrawal deal, she replied: “We do not like the current withdrawal agreement - I think everyone is very much aware of that - and the reason why we don’t like it is because of the backstop issue.”

“The fact that it separates Northern Ireland out from the rest of the United Kingdom, puts an internal border within the United Kingdom, and makes us subject to rules and regulations which the rest of the United Kingdom will not be subject to, without having any say in those rules and regulations,” she said.

“As I say, we will judge everything by what protects the union and what respects the referendum result,” added Ms Foster.

The DUP leader also denied some weekend reports that there was some splintering within her party with three of its ten MPs reportedly having been prepared to sign up to the defeated withdrawal agreement that British prime minister proposed in the House of Commons on Friday.

“No, there are no splits within the Democratic Unionist Party. I’m not quite sure where that’s coming from,” she said.

While not totally rejecting the idea of a softer Brexit with the backstop removed, senior DUP sources appeared of a mind that the most likely outcome to the current deadlock would be the extension of Article 50 to temporarily prolong the UK’s membership of the EU.

One senior source said regardless of any attractions of a more moderated Brexit it was unlikely to be a runner because such were the divisions within the Tory party it “would rip apart the Conservative party”.

“Anything might happen but I think a more likely scenario would be some form of extension,” said the source.

Asked could the consequence of an extension be that Brexit would never happen the source said, “No, I don’t think that would be the case”.