DUP chief signals to EU there can be no barrier to NI-UK trade

Foster clarifies ‘blood red lines’ as fundamental issues that ‘mattered very greatly’

DUP leader Arlene Foster has warned its “red line” that there could be no Brexit deal that would divide Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom was “blood red”. Audio: BBC Radio 4 Today


Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster has reiterated to European Union Brexit negotiators that the party rejects any barrier to trade between Northern Ireland and the UK.

This applies whether such a restriction would be regulatory or customs, on the Irish Sea or in the market place. And, she insisted, that applied “both ways”, between the North and UK and the UK and the North. Ms Foster said that these were the party’s only “red line”, 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 Northern Ireland because that would prevent the North 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,” she said.

The party’s unbending line on the backstop was a firm warning that the DUP cannot support moves believed to be under way by the British governemnt to reach a compromise on the Northern Ireland backstop that would involve some regulatory checks on the Irish Sea and others in the marketplace.

Ms Foster, on whose DUP votes the Conservatives depend for their majority, would not be drawn on whether she is prepared to vote down any such package in the House of Commons. The DUP leader and its MEP, Diane Dodds, met EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his deputy, Sabine Weyand, this morning. The latter also had a separate meeting with Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson.

The DUP delegation will also meet conservatives in the ECR group [European Conservatives and Reformists] for a working dinner and the Irish Ambassador Declan Kelleher on Wednesday. Responding to questions about existing animal checks on the Irish Sea and how, given those, the issue could not be a matter of principle, Ms Dodds insisted that this was a “misconception of what actually is checked”.

That’s the disruption that that would mean within the UK’s internal market

She said “live animals have to have veterinary certificates and they have to be judged suitable and healthy and fit to travel. 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 added, “those checks would become 100 per cent, although with a veterinary agreement in a future trade agreement that might be reduced somewhat. This would involve animals plants and everything derived there from . . . 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.”