DUP may support cross-Border ‘co-operation’ to avoid backstop

Jim Shannon said party was looking at ‘practical methods’ to allow Brexit deal

 DUP leader Arlene Foster has called for a ‘sensible deal’. Photograph: Tolga Akmen / AFP

DUP leader Arlene Foster has called for a ‘sensible deal’. Photograph: Tolga Akmen / AFP

 

Senior figures within the DUP are willing to accept some form of cross-Border co-operation to avoid the backstop and allow a deal to be reached over the UK’s exit from the EU.

DUP MP for Strangford Jim Shannon told The Irish Times the party was looking at “practical and helpful methods” consistent with the agri-food arrangements which already existed on an all-Ireland basis.

He also said the idea of an all-Ireland food zone was being discussed by the Conservative party’s pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG). He had been told, he said, that this would “still mean the removal of the backstop. It will mean it will become a co-operation,” he said.

“If the co-operation is co-operation which doesn’t impact constitutionally or politically upon our position within the United Kingdom then it could, and may well be, a method of going forward,” Mr Shannon said.

He emphasised that there would be no border in the Irish Sea, and said that there had been no change in the DUP’s opposition to the backstop. “There’s no deviation. The backstop has to be removed, and both the British government and ourselves are on the same page.”

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But, he said, “that doesn’t mean there’s not discussions taking place about trying to find a way forward, because there should be”.

He is the latest among a number of senior party members to express their willingness to consider alternative economic “arrangements” to the backstop, which is aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told BBC Newsnight on Monday the party was willing to consider arrangements that were of benefit to Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and subject to the consent of the North’s Assembly.

‘Sensible deal’

There are doubts about the feasibility of such a plan, not least because of the continued lack of the Stormont Assembly, which collapsed two and a half years ago and has yet to be restored. That aside, it is unlikely the EU would agree to cede control to a regional parliament, particularly one which – if it were to be restored – has a mechanism which would give an effective veto to either the DUP or Sinn Féin.

However, as the October 31st deadline for the UK crashing out of the EU approaches, there has been more talk of compromise.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has called for a “sensible deal”, while the former first minister Peter Robinson told The Irish Times “every effort should be made to have an orderly Brexit for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said “where it was appropriate and EU legislation was necessary to keep the free flow of trade across the Irish Border, especially in the agri-food industry, and where it didn’t damage our relationships with our biggest market in GB, then of course, that’s the kind of thing that the Northern Ireland Assembly should be open to consider”. This, he said, was “different from giving carte blanche to the EU”.

Lord Hay, former assembly speaker, also gave his support to the proposal. “Before, if you looked at the backstop, everything was being controlled by Brussels and Dublin,” he said. “I think this could be the lock that the assembly has and holds.”

He said British prime minister Boris Johnson was “genuine” in trying to find a deal to avoid a no-deal Brexit. “We accept his word on that... at this minute in time, I think we’ve got to trust the prime minister.”

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