DUP’s hard line on customs a key challenge for Boris Johnson

If UK prime minister cannot move on customs, there can be no Brexit deal

Not laughing: Arlene Foster. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Not laughing: Arlene Foster. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

There were few enough laughs at Manchester’s Comedy Store on Monday when Arlene Foster joined Conservative Brexiteers John Redwood and Mark Francois at a meeting titled Brexit: The Moment of Truth. The DUP leader certainly didn’t see the funny side of the way her remarks a day earlier about a time-limited Northern Ireland backstop had made the headlines.

“I’m always amazed by the way my remarks are reported. I didn’t say that we would accept it, I said that we would look at it. There is a world of a difference. When asked a direct question I said I would look at a time limit. That’s a world away from saying that we were now advocating that,” she said.

Foster was right. What she said on Sunday was simply a restatement of the DUP’s openness to considering a time-limited backstop, which other senior party figures have articulated over the past year. She pointed out that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had rejected a time limit. And Boris Johnson’s government has made clear it is not interested in negotiating a time-limited backstop.

The excitement over Foster’s comments about a time limit was a distraction from her much more significant remarks on Sunday about what the DUP was willing to back as an alternative to the backstop. She rejected any regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain beyond agri-food and ruled out a compromise on customs that would see Northern Ireland treated as part of the customs territory of both the EU and the UK.

Tough line

The DUP may prove to be more flexible over regulation in the coming weeks, but the party is unwilling to budge from its tough line on customs. This is because the party believes that customs are inextricable from national sovereignty and that to leave Northern Ireland in the EU customs union would be to undermine its place in the union.

The DUP’s 10 seats amount to less than a quarter of Johnson’s deficit in the House of Commons but they remain a crucial player in the Brexit negotiations. DUP support for any deal the prime minister brings back from Brussels could persuade all but a handful of Conservative Brexiteers to back it.

But if Johnson cannot move on customs there can be no deal, because the EU believes that, without customs declarations and checks, it cannot know what is coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain in order to protect the single market.

BREXIT: The Facts

Read them here
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.