Brexit deal collapses as DUP say no to soft border


Plans to seal a critical deal to advance negotiations on Britain’s departure from the EU ended in farce this afternoon when a last minute phone call from the DUP caused the British Prime Minister Theresa May to pull out at the last minute.

Negotiations are set to continue after May and EU negotiator Jean-Claude Juncker made joint statements pointing to outstanding issues and expressed hoe for future talks.

It had been widely reported this morning that a deal had been struck. Plans to issue joint statements to welcome the breakthrough were timetabled for Brussels. In Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had an outdoor podium prepared for the announcement of what appeared to be positive developments.

The reports appeared to confirm a breakthrough was near which would prevent a remilitarisation of the border between the Irish and British jurisdictions in Ireland. Brexit and a hard border are strongly opposed in both parts of Ireland.

The planned compromise had variously involved Britain agreeing to “regulatory alignment,” or alternatively “no divergence”, in customs and trade practices between the North and South of Ireland after Brexit, and specifically referred to honouring the Good Friday Agreement.

The Irish Tanaiste Simon Coveney, claimed the Dublin government was “in a much better place than we have been at any point in the Brexit negotiations”.

However, a statement from the hardline unionist DUP, followed by a lunchtime telephone exchange between Theresa May and DUP leader Arlene Foster, appeared to instantly scupper the plan.

At the press conference in Brussels, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Ms May was a tough negotiator who had defended the British point of view, and “despite best efforts it was not possible to reach a complete agreement today”.

“We stand ready to resume the negotiations”, he said, adding “I have to say we are narrowing our positions. I’m still confident that we can reach sufficient progress before the European Council [meets] on 15th of December.”

Ms May said the sides have had a constructive meeting, and that “it is clear that we want to move forward together”. She said there would be further negotiation and consultation. “We will reconvene before the end of the week. We will conclude this positively.”

It is understood she will now hold direct talks with the DUP, whose support underpins her minority government at Westminster.


Earlier today, DUP leader Arlene Foster had said: “Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK.

“We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom. “

In a statement, her party also accused the Dublin government of seeking to “unilaterally change” the Good Friday Agreement “without our input or consent”, even though the DUP has itself always refused to endorse the 1998 peace deal.

Speaking on BBC radio, DUP MP Sammy Wilson insisted the British government had assured them that Britain and the north of Ireland would leave the EU together.

He also warned the DUP could use its veto at the Stormont Assembly in Belfast to prevent the implementation of any deal, even though the devolved power-sharing institutions collapsed in January.

It is “impossible to guarantee convergence as many powers rest with Stormont”, he insisted.

In a statement, Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD said it was absolutely critical for the future of the island of Ireland that the negotiations succeed.

She said that the north of Ireland must remain within the EU, including the Customs Union and the Single Market, as it is the only guarantee of stability and certainty that would deliver the full protection of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Sinn Fein are in close contact with the Irish and British governments, and are engaged at EU level. Earlier, I met with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

“Sinn Fein have said from the beginning of this process that what is required is a Designated Special Status for the north within the European Union. The north, after all, voted to remain within the EU. That mandate must be respected and acted upon.

“This means the north must remain within the EU, including the Customs Union and the Single Market. That is the only guarantee of stability and certainty that will deliver the full protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts; including Irish citizenship and therefore the benefits of EU citizenship.

“This is a common sense, practical, and achievable proposal and, despite the claims of the DUP, it will not change the constitutional position of the north.”

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