DUP MP urges Dublin to work with UK on Brexit as peace guarantor

Jeffrey Donaldson: EU unlikely to object if ‘understanding’ reached with London on Border

The Government should engage directly with London on its post-Brexit proposals to avoid a hard border as a co-guarantor of the Northern Irish peace process, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

Mr Donaldson said that if Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has proposals to break the deadlock over the Brexit process around the contentious "backstop" – the insurance policy within the withdrawal agreement to maintain an open border – then he should engage directly with the British government.

British MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement three times amid fears that the backstop could keep the UK tied to EU economic rules indefinitely after Brexit.

This has raised the prospect of a no-deal exit by the next deadline for the UK’s exit on October 31st.

The DUP chief whip urged the Government to discuss any post-Brexit solution for the Border directly with the UK. But this is a suggestion the Government has previously rejected as negotiations are directed through the EU.

Mr Donaldson urged the UK and Irish governments to speak directly to each other to find a solution to the Border problem as co-guarantors of the 1998 Belfast Agreement underpinning the peace process.

"When it comes to the backstop, surely the issue is that both London and Dublin are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and if they are no longer talking directly to each other about how we uphold the agreement, then where are we?" asked Mr Donaldson. "Surely if London and Dublin could come to some kind of understanding, will Brussels really stand in the way if it is about protecting the peace process and ensuring that North-South co-operation continues post-Brexit?"

The Government refused to budge on its opposition to the proposal in response to Mr Donaldson's suggestion. A spokesman for Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister with responsibility for Brexit, said the UK was negotiating its exit from the EU with 27 other countries "through the European Commission".

“There can be no bilateral negotiation. This is well known and has been stated many, many times,” said Mr Coveney’s spokesman.

“Brexit is a British decision and the negotiations leading to the withdrawal agreement were conducted fairly for over two years around British red lines.”

What has Varadkar proposed?

Mr Varadkar has recently said the Government was exploring the idea of checking live animals and animal products from Britain as they arrive at ports on the whole island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Taoiseach’s proposal, conceding for the first time that checks would need to take place somewhere to protect the EU single market, would address the most complicated checks around animal and meat products.

Mr Donaldson said the DUP, which keeps the minority Conservative government in power at Westminster, would “look at” whatever proposals the Government advances, but they will be judged against “those very clear red lines” that the party set out in opposition to a Northern Ireland-only backstop.

The unionist party objected to a proposal for North-South regulatory alignment with some checks at Northern Irish ports on products coming in from Britain on the basis that it would create a new border down the Irish Sea and separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

"That is why we have said to the Irish Government, 'let's find a way of achieving what they need to achieve whilst respecting the constitutional arrangements that were agreed over 20 years ago'. We believe that the backstop doesn't fully respect those arrangements because of its indefinite nature," he said.

Mr Donaldson said he would be urging the incoming British prime minister, whether it is Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, to engage with Dublin to "try and resolve these difficulties in advance of the impending deadline in October".