Brexit deal hopes fade as DUP rules out concessions
Arlene Foster tells Tories Northern Ireland could not be part of two customs territories
Ms Foster said she could not accept any kind of internal customs border within the UK, adding Northern Ireland could not be part of two customs territories.
Her comments came as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told The Irish Times that members of the Stormont assembly should play a part in the application of EU rules in the North after Brexit but time is running out to define what that role should be.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Ms Foster said her party would be open to discussing a time-limited backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland, but she noted Mr Varadkar had already rejected it.
Downing Street has also made clear that UK prime minister Boris Johnson is not interested in a time limit but wanted to scrap the backstop altogether.
Britain is expected to make formal proposals later this week for an alternative to the backstop in an attempt to agree a revised withdrawal agreement ahead of the EU summit on October 17th. The European Union and Irish Government have said any alternatives must achieve the same objectives as the backstop.
Britain has already agreed to regulatory alignment on the island of Ireland for animal health and some agri-food products, and is expected to offer to extend that proposal to cover industrial goods. The two sides are deadlocked on customs, with the EU insisting that without customs declarations and checks, it has no way of knowing what is coming into the North from Great Britain.
Ms Foster ruled out any divergence between the North and Britain on anything more than agri-foods and said any internal customs border within the UK would be “an anathema”.
“It has constitutional implications as well as economic implications,” she said.
The Irish Government has always been open to a role for Stormont in any solution on Brexit
Mr Johnson has been pushing for a greater role for the Northern Ireland institutions in any post-Brexit provisions for the North.
In recent meetings with Mr Varadkar, such as at the United Nations in New York last week, he raised what Downing Street described as proposals on the “issue of consent” for Northern unionists.
Mr Varadkar told The Irish Times that defining what sort of role Stormont could play will be difficult when the time to achieve a revised Brexit deal is short.
“The Irish Government has always been open to a role for Stormont in any solution on Brexit,” he said. “If some EU rules continue to apply in Northern Ireland, it’s right that the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland should have a role.
“Defining that, however, will not be easy when time is so short and when there is no Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly in place to speak for the North as a whole.”
Sources in Dublin have raised concerns about some of the difficulties of involving Stormont but believe allowing the Northern Ireland institutions a greater say than is already envisaged is worth exploring.
Some of the difficulties seen by Dublin include the question of what would happen in a situation where the Northern institutions are not operating; giving either the unionist or nationalist community a veto, which is seen as unworkable; and if any say would amount to Stormont giving its consent to Northern Ireland either entering or leaving the backstop.