A draft agreement has been reached on Brexit between the European Union and the British government. However, following consultations with loyalist paramilitaries earlier this week, the DUP continue to reject the planned deal.
The EU Commission said the agreement “fully protects the integrity of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, and avoids any regulatory and customs checks at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland”.
The Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that the ‘backstop’, a previously agreed guarantee to prevent the remilitarisation of the border area, had been replaced. The new agreement provides a mechanism to empower the Stormont Assembly with the right to terminate arrangements for the Six Counties and allow for a hard border. However, he insisted overall the new deal “protects the all-island economy” and is “good for Ireland and Northern Ireland”.
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald described the deal as “complex and wide-ranging” and that all aspects needed to be considered “in their entirety”.
However, the DUP quickly declared their opposition to the agreement, and on three separate issues -- new customs arrangements for the north of Ireland, the likelihood of different rates of VAT (sales tax), and the plan for periodic ‘consent’ votes at the Stormont Assembly.
Earlier this week, the DUP controversially consulted with loyalist death squads over its approach to the emerging deal. Arlene Foster and other senior party figures held talks with high-ranking figures from the UVF and UDA, including south Belfast’s Jackie McDonald.
The meetings followed warnings of potential violence if loyalists feel the status of the Six Counties under British rule is being “diluted”.
Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew described reports of the meetings as astonishing and said the DUP was “living in a parallel universe”. Ms Gildernew said recent evidence directly linking the the DUP to the murderous paramilitary group Ulster Resistance made the meetings all the more concerning.
“It is truly astonishing that the DUP are meeting with representatives of loyalist paramilitaries to discuss Brexit rather than listening to the majority who voted to reject Brexit, who want to protect the Good Friday Agreement and who are fearful of a crash-out Brexit,” she said.
The British Parliament will vote this Saturday on whether it supports the deal, while the EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has recommended that all European partners support it.
Arriving at the EU summit today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it was now down to the British parliament.
“The House of Commons will meet on Saturday and the best thing we can do as Irish politicians is not intervene of interfere in UK politics,” he said. “It’s up to them to decide whether they want a deal, they rejected the last deal on three occasions.”
When asked if the DUP could scupper the deal at Westminster, where the party’s ten MPs remain in a powerful position, Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t want to comment on a position taken by any political party, but this will go to House of Commons on Saturday and we have to give them time.”