Brexit: Downing Street rejects DUP’s ‘betrayal’ claims
May’s letter ‘raises alarm bells’ for those who value the integrity of the union, says Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster with UK prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/PA Wire
Downing Street has rejected claims that British prime minister Theresa May is preparing to “betray” the Democratic Unionist Party by accepting a backstop that could leave Northern Ireland under different customs and single market rules to the rest of the United Kingdom.
In a letter to DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy, Nigel Dodds, Mrs May said she could not accept that there would be any circumstances in which a Northern Ireland-specific customs backstop could be allowed to come in to force.
“The prime minister’s letter sets out her commitment, which she has been absolutely clear about on any number of occasions, to never accepting any circumstances in which the UK is divided into two customs territories. The government will not agree anything that brings about a hard border on the island of Ireland,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Ms Foster said she interpreted the letter as a signal that Mrs May was ready to accept that there would be Northern Ireland-specific elements in the backstop she is hoping to agree with Brussels.
“The prime minister’s letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious union, and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK,” she said.
Mrs May’s cabinet is expected to meet early next week to consider a draft withdrawal agreement including a compromise proposal on the backstop. If ministers back the deal and EU member states approve it, it could be signed off at a special EU summit in late November.
Downing Street has consistently maintained that a UK-wide customs backstop would remove the need for a Northern Ireland-specific backstop. But the prime minister’s letter makes clear that the backstop will include Northern Ireland-specific requirements for regulatory alignment with the EU.
The DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said Mrs May was guilty of a “total betrayal” of promises she made to ensure that there would be no border in the Irish Sea after Brexit. Mr Wilson made clear that the DUP’s 10 MPs at Westminster could not vote for a Brexit deal that included such a backstop.
The prime minister’s prospects of winning a parliamentary majority for a Brexit deal dimmed further on Friday when Jo Johnson resigned as transport minister and called for a second referendum. Mr Johnson, whose brother Boris was one of the leaders of the Leave campaign in 2016, said Britain was “barrelling towards an incoherent Brexit” that would leave the country trapped in a subordinate relationship to the EU.
Mr Johnson said that, now that it was clear what leaving the EU actually looked like, British voters should be allowed to make the final choice about how to proceed.