DUP warns Boris Johnson it will not accept any Brexit deal that splits the UK amid claims the PM could agree to a watered-down version of backstop which only applies to Northern Ireland
- Arlene Foster heading to London today for crunch talks with Boris Johnson
- DUP leader reiterated backstop ‘unacceptable’ and would leave NI a ‘rule taker’
- Growing speculation Mr Johnson could soften stance on backstop to get deal
Arlene Foster has warned Boris Johnson the DUP will not accept any Brexit deal that splits the UK amid claims the PM could agree to a backstop that only applies to Northern Ireland.
The DUP leader is reportedly coming to London for talks with Mr Johnson today and she said ahead of their meeting that the backstop was ‘unacceptable’.
Her comments came as speculation grew that the PM could try to find a way out of the Brexit morass by proposing a watered-down version of the Irish border protocol.
At the moment the backstop would apply to the whole of the UK and keep it closely aligned to Brussels rules and regulations to avoid the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event the two sides cannot agree terms on a future trading relationship.
The idea of a Northern Ireland-only backstop was floated by the EU in February 2018 but it was rejected by Theresa May on the grounds it would effectively create a border in the Irish Sea.
Mrs May said ‘no UK prime minister could ever agree to’ such a proposal.
But a number of Tory sources have told the BBC that Mr Johnson is considering resurrecting something close to the stream-lined backstop in a move which would prompt DUP fury.
It would leave Northern Ireland having to stick to EU rules but allow the rest of the UK to diverge and go its own way.
One senior Remainer Tory said: ‘Boris Johnson is not a Unionist. So he would think nothing of throwing the DUP under the bus if that was in his interests.’
But Downing Street dismissed the suggestion it could pursue such a strategy.
The PM’s spokesman said this morning: ‘We are not seeking a Northern Ireland-only backstop.’
DUP leader Arlene Foster told Sky News this morning that the Irish border backstop is ‘unacceptable’
There is growing speculation in Westminster that Boris Johnson, pictured leaving Parliament last night, could accept a watered down version of the backstop
The DUP is vehemently opposed to such an insurance policy because the party’s MPs are adamant that Northern Ireland should not be treated differently to the rest of the UK.
Ms Foster outlined her opposition to the protocol as she prepared to fly to London for talks with the PM.
She told Sky News: ‘The backstop leaves us in a separate customs union from the rest of the United Kingdom.
What is the Irish backstop and why is it so divisive?
The so-called Irish border backstop is one of the most controversial parts of the existing Brexit deal. This is what it means:
What is the backstop?
The backstop was invented to meet promises to keep open the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland even if there is no comprehensive UK-EU trade deal.
The divorce deal says it will kick in automatically at the end of the Brexit transition period if that deal is not in place.
It effectively keeps the UK in a customs union with the EU and Northern Ireland in both the customs union and single market.
This means many EU laws will keep being imposed on the UK, restricting its ability to do its own trade deals. It also means regulatory checks on some goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Why have Ireland and the EU demanded it?
Because the UK is leaving the customs union and single market, the EU said it needed guarantees that people and goods circulating inside its border – in this case in Ireland – met its rules.
This is covered by the Brexit transition, which effectively maintains the status quo, and can in theory be done in the comprehensive EU-UK trade deal.
But the EU said there had to be a backstop to cover what happens in any gap between the transition and final deal.
Why do critics hate it?
Because Britain cannot decide when to leave the backstop.
Getting out – even if there is a trade deal – can only happen if both sides agree and Brexiteers fear the EU will unreasonably demand the backstop continues so EU law continues to apply in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland MPs also hate the regulatory border in the Irish Sea, insisting it unreasonably carves up the United Kingdom.
‘It leaves us taking rules and regulations from the European Union without any democratic say in those rules and regulations so that is unacceptable.
‘I think what we want to do is to find a sensible deal, a way forward that actually recognises our unique history and geography.’
Mr Johnson continues to enjoy the support of the DUP’s 10 MPs as part of the deal done with Mrs May in the wake of the 2017 general election.
Should the PM shift his position on the backstop that support would almost certainly disappear.
The PM has repeatedly said he could not agree to a Brexit divorce deal that includes the backstop.
But some Tory MPs believe Mr Johnson could ultimately adopt something similar to the protocol but with a different name.
While the Remainer Tory said Mr Johnson would be willing to throw the DUP ‘under the bus’, a Brexiteer Tory insisted he would not cut the party loose.
According to the BBC Mr Johnson wants to strike a ‘Canada Plus’ style free trade agreement with the EU.
But the bloc has suggested that Northern Ireland could not be included in such a deal because of the need to avoid border checks which a divergence on rules would likely require.
The Withdrawal Agreement signed off by Theresa May with Brussels included an all-UK backstop after she rejected a Northern Ireland-only backstop.
Mr Johnson is now apparently willing to consider supporting a version of the latter which would require Northern Ireland to adhere to Brussels rules in certain areas like agriculture, leaving the rest of the UK to do what it wants.
Such an approach would mean amending the existing Brexit divorce deal.
It would also likely mean deleting the word backstop and calling it something else but it would amount to broadly the same thing.
Downing Street has repeatedly said that the backstop must be deleted.