DUP delegation reiterates stance to EU negotiators in Brussels
Foster says party rejects any barrier to trade between Northern Ireland and Britain
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier with DUP leader Arlene Foster (right), and DUP MEP Diane Dodds at the European Commission in Brussels. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/ via AP
DUP leader Arlene Foster has reiterated to EU Brexit negotiators that her party rejects any form of barrier to trade between Northern Ireland and Britain. These barriers, she said, include both regulatory or customs, and any potential measures on the Irish Sea or in the market place.
Speaking at a meeting in Brussels, Ms Foster said these were her party’s only “red lines”, clarifying that her recent reference to “blood red lines” meant that they “mattered very greatly” and were “deep red” as opposed to “pink” lines.
She said she was firmly opposed to any separate EU customs deal for the North because that would prevent the region from participating or benefiting from any future trade deals negotiated by the UK. “We could not support any arrangement that would either give rise to customs or regulatory barriers .”
The party’s unbending line was a firm warning that it cannot support moves believed to be under way by the British government to reach a compromise on the Northern Ireland backstop that would involve some regulatory checks on the Irish Sea and others in the market place.
Ms Foster, on whose party’s votes the Conservatives depend for their majority, would not be drawn, however, on whether she is prepared to vote down any such package in the House of Commons.
Ms Foster and DUP MEP Diane Dodds met the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his deputy Sabine Weyand on Tuesday morning. Ms Weyand also had a separate meeting with Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson.
The DUP delegation was also meeting members of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group group for a working dinner on Tuesday, and will hold talks with the Irish Ambassador Declan Kelleher on Wednesday.
Responding to questions about existing animal checks on the Irish Sea, Ms Dodds insisted this was a “misconception” of what was checked.
“Live animals have to have veterinary certificates, and they have to be judged suitable and healthy and fit to travel,” she said. “Currently all that happens is that those veterinary certificates are checked and perhaps only 10 per cent of those checks are actual physical inspections.”
Under EU proposals, she said “those checks would become 100 per cent, although with a veterinary agreement in a future trade agreement that might be reduced somewhat”.
“We are not saying that the checks on live animals should be discontinued. But you could be in the rather ridiculous position where milk produced in Northern Ireland by NI farmers is processed in England but has to be checked as it comes back as yoghurts or protein drinks. That’s the disruption that that would mean within the UK’s internal market.”