DUP boss Arlene Foster insists she won’t sign up to Brexit deal which cuts off Northern Ireland from the rest of UK

ARLENE FOSTER tonight stood firm on the Brexit deal which was scuppered by the DUP – and blamed the Irish government for the collapse of the agreement.

Theresa May has been pleading with the unionist party to agree with her Irish border plans, but the DUP leader snubbed talks in London today and has yet to speak to the PM on the phone.

Mrs Foster said she vetoed the proposed deal yesterday because it risked signing up Northern Ireland to keep EU rules while the rest of the UK adopts different standards.

The party leader told Sky News tonight: "We want to see progress. We don't want to see a hard border.

"We want to have good relations with our next door neighbours in the Republic of Ireland but we are not going to cut ourselves off from the rest of the United Kingdom."

The agreement was expected to be signed off by Mrs May and EU leaders yesterday afternoon, but it was postponed after the DUP raised last-minute objections.

Mrs Foster suggested it was the fault of the Irish government that the unionists had not been sent a draft of the deal in good time for yesterday's summit.

She said: "There have been reasons given to us about why we didn't receive the text – one of those reasons apparently is because the Irish government wouldn't allow them to.

"In many ways, I can understand that, but the important thing is that once we've seen the text, we knew that it would not fly, for Northern Ireland, for Scotland, because once you start separating parts of the UK out, then it has ramifications for other places as well."

After yesterday’s row over “regulatory alignment” the Brexit Secretary David Davis risked the fury of hard-line Tories by making it seem likely the UK was willing to stay signed up to Brussels legislation in crucial areas such as agriculture, energy and transport in order to get a trade deal.

But he flatly denied the Government was prepared to sign up to terms that would risk Northern Ireland's future, vowing that the “integrity of the UK comes first”.

The PM is likely to meet Jean-Claude Juncker for further discussions either on Thursday or over the weekend.

Nigel Dodds, the DUP's Westminster leader, was meeting with the Government’s chief whip Julian Smith in Westminster this afternoon.

But earlier he gave a press conference where he said the DUP did not receive the proposals until “late yesterday morning”, when he said they “indicated to senior Government representatives that it was clearly unacceptable in its current form”.

And he appeared to suggest the Irish government's "aggressive stance" on avoiding a hard border could scupper negotiations and lead to Britain leaving with no deal.


Mr Dodds denied the party now had a veto over the UK's dealings with the EU, saying: "No, the DUP doesn't have any veto. The Irish Republic does have a veto.

“They are uncomfortable with that veto because they keep trying to say 'No, it's not our veto, it's the EU's', but it is very clear that the EU have given a veto to the Irish Republic and the Irish Republic are flexing their muscles and using their current position to try to gain wins for them.”

But he did also appear to soften his stance on trade arrangements, saying there could be regulatory alignment in certain areas.

Mr Dodds added: "Northern Ireland already has a single energy market with the Irish Republic, so there are areas where we can co-operate with the Irish Republic.

“And, indeed, where it may make sense to have some kind of regulatory alignment in certain, specific areas.

"But not in relation to following the rules of the single market or the customs union for Northern Ireland as a generality."

No10 confirmed Mrs May would speak to Ms Foster as well as the Sinn Fein leader Michele O'Neill at some point today.

And a Downing Street spokesman hit back at the criticism of the border plans, saying: “We have been clear that the UK is leaving the single market and the customs union – we are leaving as a whole.

“We will not be jeopardising the UK’s own internal market.”

They added that the PM told the Cabinet this morning the "UK and EU were very close to getting an agreement" on Brexit – but there are “a small number of issues outstanding”.

And welcoming the Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy to Downing Street at lunchtime, Mrs May said: "Our talks with the European Union have made a lot of progress.

"There are still a couple of issues we need to work on.

"But we'll be reconvening in Brussels later this week as we look ahead to the December European Council.

"But I know in everything we do we want to ensure, particularly, that we recognise the needs of Spanish citizens here in the UK , and UK citizens living in Spain."

The furore began yesterday when Mrs May had lunch in Brussels with Jean-Claude Juncker, where there were high hopes an agreement that “sufficient progress” on the first phase of talks would be made.

They had been expected to unveil the publication of a 15-page document, outlining details of a deal that would clear the way for the next phase to begin this month.

It appeared one of the key sticking points – the Irish border – looked to have been solved after a change in the wording in the draft proposal on trade regulation.

The Irish PM Leo Varadkar said the European Commission, the UK and the Republic were all agreed on saying we would keep “regulatory alignment” on the island after we leave the bloc.

But the meeting was interrupted by a call between the PM and the DUP leader, who then dashed any hope of something being signed off.

Ms Foster's party were reportedly left seething by the proposal  – which it was claimed would have allowed the province to “effectively stay in the Single Market” once we leave.

So instead of unveiling a deal Mrs May and Mr Juncker had to tell the waiting media at a press conference delayed by Ms Foster’s intervention they had failed to sign on the dotted line, and would need more time to iron out the final few issues.

And Mrs May, who had asked for several hours of Parliamentary time to be set aside for her to explain to MPs the nature of the deal, ditched her statement in the Commons today to engage in crisis talks with the DUP.

But the Speaker John Bercow granted Labour an urgent question about the progress in the Brexit talks, where the opposition pored over yesterday’s shambles.

They are calling on Mrs May to "rethink her reckless red lines" and consider remaining part of the customs union and single market.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said there needed to be a UK-wide response to Brexit, as her current one threatens “the break-up of the union”.

But David Davis hit back, saying Labour’s policy had changes “10 times” in a year, and said leaving one part of the UK in the single market and customs union “is emphatically not something that the UK Government is considering".

Earlier further pressure was piled on Mrs May by the leader of the Scottish Conservatives – who in pointed remarks tweeted that any Brexit agreement must be UK-wide.

Ruth Davidson said: "The question on the ballot paper asked voters whether the UK should stay or leave the European Union – it did not ask if the country should be divided by different deals for different home nations.

"While I recognise the complexity of the current negotiations, no government of the Conservative and Unionist Party should countenance any deal that compromises the political, economic or constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

"All sides agree there should be no return to the borders of the past between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

"Similarly, jeopardising the UK's own internal market is in no-one's interest.

"If regulatory alignment in a number of specific areas is the requirement for a frictionless border then the Prime Minister should conclude this must be on a UK-wide basis."

And former top Foreign Office official Lord Ricketts said the row was "damaging" for Mrs May, and will leave EU leaders with the impression that she lacks the authority to get through Brexit negotiations.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I mean, it's pretty extraordinary that this wasn't all stitched up with the DUP beforehand.

"We're used to prime ministers going to Brussels and having a row with the EU and coming back without an agreement, but to go agree with the EU and then have a row on your own side is inconvenient."

He went on: "It leaves an impression, I think, in Brussels that the Prime Minister hasn't got authority over her own side and that will knock confidence in doing a final deal."

And the former Brexit minister David Jones said "there will be people in Downing Street who will have regretted not making the position clearer with the DUP".

Mrs May is now set to go back to the Belgian capital later this week, when she will hope to have brought the unionist party on side and can finally sign off on the first phase of negotiations.

But she is cutting it fine if she wants a deal to be done to convince the leaders of the remaining 27 EU nations at a summit on December 14-15 to move Brexit talks on to their second phase.

The Sun also reported that as well as Ireland differences also remain over the issue of European Court of Justice jurisdiction over EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit.

However Mrs May insisted she was still "confident" of getting a green light for trade talks at next week's EU Council meeting.

Mr Varadkar told her “the ball is in your court” in terms of resolving the Brexit border issue, and reiterated his "regret" the UK Government had backed down from the proposal .

But Mr Dodds, speaking earlier in the Commons, said Anglo-Irish relations have been set back by the Irish government's "aggressive and anti-unionist" approach in the Brexit talks.

He warned relationships said will "take a long time to repair".

And his fellow DUP MP Ian Paisley asked Mr Davis to speak to the Dublin government and "let them know that if they continue down this reckless path they will end up stumping up a further £1.5billion in membership fees to the European Union if they do not get a trade deal with us".

Cross-party silence on Brexit this morning

But BBC presenter Nick Robinson claimed Labour and the DUP also told their senior politicians to not appear on TV or radio to talk about the Brexit talks.

The Radio 4 Today programme host hit back at complaints that representatives from the parties were not appearing on the show for interviews by revealing they all asked their spokesmen not to appear.

Backbench Tory MP and former Brexit minister David Jones did appear on the show, alongside crossbench peer and former top Foreign Office official Lord Ricketts.

But no ministers, shadow cabinet members or senior DUP figures were available for questioning.

Robinson tweeted: "Calling all those complaining that their party is not on @BBCr4today today: the DUP, Tory & Labour press offices asked their spokespeople not to appear."

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