Government and DUP clash as Brexit tensions rise

UK preparing move on the backstop as DUP fears rise

Speaking in the Dáil, the Taoiseach has said that the Good Friday Agreement "is not up for negotiation" in response to comments made by DUP leader Arlene Foster.


The Government clashed publicly last night with the DUP over Brexit and the future of the Belfast Agreement, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rejecting suggestions the agreement could be changed to accommodate Brexit.

While DUP leader Arlene Foster had suggested the agreement “wasn’t sacrosanct”, Mr Varadkar told the Dáil it “is not a piece of British legislation”.

“It is an international agreement between the British and Irish governments as well as a multi-party agreement among the various parties,” he said.

“And certainly as far as this Government is concerned, the Good Friday Agreement is not up for negotiation in these talks over Brexit.”

With reports that the UK is preparing to move its position on the legal text of the border backstop – the guarantee of no hard border in Ireland – the DUP insisted it would vote against any proposal that would result in any new barriers between the North and the rest of the UK.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson warned: “We’re not bluffing.”

Mrs May’s government is reliant on the DUP for its majority in the House of Commons.

Rising tensions

But as time ticks down towards a crucial EU summit in a fortnight’s time, reports of imminent British concessions in the Brexit negotiations raised tensions at the Conservative Party conference.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson threw down the gauntlet to British prime minister Theresa May with a call before a packed fringe meeting to “chuck Chequers”.

But The Irish Times understands that the British government is preparing to accept most of the European Union’s latest proposals for the Northern Ireland backstop and to propose that the whole of the United Kingdom should effectively remain in the customs union beyond the end of 2020. Senior figures in Dublin were privately positive about the moves.

However, Britain will continue to demand that the backstop should be temporary and that the Northern Ireland Assembly should have a role in approving regulatory alignment with the EU.

The proposal being considered by the British government, which is expected to be presented to the EU in the next two weeks, would accept that Northern Ireland should remain in regulatory alignment with the EU for goods. Under the latest proposal from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, the regulatory control of goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would take the form of market surveillance rather than checks at ports or on vessels.

British negotiators also accept the need for sanitary and phytosanitary checks on agricultural products, which would be conducted at ports and vessels as they are now. Currently, just 10 per cent of such products are checked and Britain wants the EU to drop its demand that 100 per cent should be checked after Brexit.

Britain is expected to present its new proposal within the next two weeks, in advance of an EU summit on October 18th.