Brexit: ‘Space available’ for UK and EU to reach deal, DUP says

Nigel Dodds says ‘behind the soundbites’ it was clear work has been going on

Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds (DUP) leave Downing Street last week. Photograph:  Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds (DUP) leave Downing Street last week. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

 

“Space is available” for the UK and the EU to reach a Brexit deal provided there is the will to do so, the deputy leader of the DUP has said.

Nigel Dodds was speaking following a meeting between the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, in Luxembourg.

Mr Johnson told reporters that the was “a good chance of a deal” but it “isn’t necessarily in the bag”.

In a statement, the European Commission said proposals to replace the backstop “have not yet been made”.

The backstop - the mechanism which would avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland - is the main sticking point in the negotiations between Britain and the EU.

The DUP is opposed to a Northern Ireland-only backstop, but has indicated in recent days that it would consider some form of all-Ireland agri-food zone.

Mr Dodds said that “behind the soundbites and the negotiating positions it is clear work has been ongoing to secure an agreement to allow a sensible and managed exit from the European Union.”

He welcomed the agreement that talks between the UK and the EU are to intensify, and said it should be “clear” that Mr Johnson was serious about securing a deal.

But the Sinn Fein president, Mary Lou McDonald, said the British government needed “to start dealing in facts rather than fantasy.”

Mr Johnson, she said, was “peddling a myth that he can somehow get the right-wing fantasy he craves in new negotiations with Brussels.”

In this, Ms McDonald said, he was “absolutely wrong”; instead, she said, the solutions were to be found in the backstop, which was the “bare minimum required to protect Irish right and agreements” and in “full and meaningful power-sharing”.

There has been no power-sharing government in the North since January 2017, when the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed amid a row over a botched renewable heating scheme.

The SDLP MLA, Daniel McCrossan, said that the onus was on Mr Johnson to produce an acceptable alternative to the backstop.

“I understand that the backstop is challenging for unionism,” he said, “but it is the only mechanism on the table that protects us from a no-deal.

“There has been significant speculation about compromise measures in the last few days. No party should be politically bludgeoned for the difficult decisions needed to create the space for compromise.

“Time is running short, however, and there is a significant amount of ground left for some to cover.”

The Ulster Unionist leader, Robin Swann, said that the meeting between Mr Johnson and Mr Juncker “did not give cause for optimism”.

“There should be more genuine, intensive engagement underway about a replacement for the backstop as the clock counts down towards the 31st October,” he said, “otherwise the inevitable outcome could be a repackaged backstop under another name which would rip apart the Belfast Agreement.

“It would loosen the bonds which tie the United Kingdom together and this is totally unacceptable to any unionist.”