Brexit: Foster says extension should be used to change backstop

DUP leader warns that no-deal could still occur without changes to contentious issue

Iain Duncan-Smith and Arlene Foster arrive at the European Commission to meet Michel Barnier. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Iain Duncan-Smith and Arlene Foster arrive at the European Commission to meet Michel Barnier. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

 

Europe needs to hear and understand unionist concerns about the Northern Irish backstop, the DUP leader Arlene Foster has said.

At a meeting in Brussels, Ms Foster told EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier that unionists opposed the withdrawal agreement because of the contentious mechanism.

Afterwards, she warned that the UK and EU would move “inexorably towards a no-deal scenario” if changes to the backstop were not made.

Ms Foster contends that the EU has ignored the feelings of unionists on the issue, and has instead been influenced by the pro-backstop lobbying of Irish nationalists.

Conservative MPs and fellow Brexiteers Iain Duncan-Smith and Owen Paterson accompanied Ms Foster to the meeting with Mr Barnier on Thursday.

They are also seeking a Brexit deal that does not contain a backstop.

Afterwards, the DUP leader said: “We wanted to have the unionist voice heard so that he could hear the impact of the backstop and what it will do to the balance in Northern Ireland.

“We had good engagement around that issue today.”

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Mr Smith added: “We also went on to discuss what the alternative arrangements were and what possibilities there were around the Border.

“It was a pretty open and straightforward conversation. We are going to let the Government know when we get back what was said.”

Mr Paterson said that everyone agreed there should be no infrastructure on the Irish Border. He said alternative technological arrangements were “the only show in town to resolve this issue”.

Single market rules

Under the withdrawal agreement as it stands, the backstop would be activated if a wider EU-UK trade deal failed to materialise before the end of the Brexit implementation period, and would see the UK enter into a temporary customs union with the EU to avoid the need for customs checks on the Irish Border.

It would also see Northern Ireland adhere to EU single market rules on goods – again to rule out the necessity for Border regulatory checks.

The DUP believes binding Northern Ireland to single market rules would create a regulatory border between the region and the rest of the UK – a move, it argues, that would undermine the constitutional integrity of the union.

After the Brussels talks, Ms Foster said that UK prime minister Theresa May should use the extra six months now available to her to reopen the issue of the backstop.

Asked whether she believed there was any prospect of the withdrawal agreement being changed in the period to October, Ms Foster said: “It depends whether they want to get a deal.

“If they want to get a deal they’re going to have to deal with the backstop, because the only thing that has got through parliament with the majority is the fact of dealing with the backstop.

“And if it’s dealt with in the appropriate fashion, then the withdrawal agreement will go through and they will have a deal. But if they continue on the road of ‘we are not reopening the treaty’, then we are heading inexorably towards a no-deal scenario.

“That’s something which I really regret because we want to get a deal that is good for the whole of the UK. Instead of this intransigence, actually what they should be using the next number of months to do is look at ways to deal with that backstop.”

‘National stability’

Asked if she still had confidence in Mrs May after the latest Brexit extension, the DUP leader said: “As you know, the confidence and supply agreement that we signed was with the Conservative Party, and whoever the leader of the party is, we will work with. We believe in national stability. We want to see Brexit delivered.”

She added: “Three years since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, we should have left by now.”

Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader, Michelle O’Neill, criticised the DUP leader’s remarks. She highlighted that many unionists voted to remain in the EU.

“I’m sure the irony of Arlene Foster’s comments won’t be lost on those unionists who voted on a cross-community majority basis against Brexit in the first place,” she said.– PA

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