Friday 18 October 2019

DUP leader said Barnier was 'difficult and hostile'

‘Hostile’: EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier met Arlene Foster last week. Photo: REUTERS
‘Hostile’: EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier met Arlene Foster last week. Photo: REUTERS

Michael Sheils McNamee and Mícheál Ó Scannáil

A set of leaked emails has shown DUP leader Arlene Foster preparing for a no-deal Brexit as the most likely outcome after frayed negotiations last week with the EU.

In the exchange between senior UK officials, Ms Foster envisaged a no-deal Brexit as the "likeliest outcome".

The DUP leader last week met the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to discuss Northern Ireland's post-Brexit future.

The issue of the "backstop" to avoid a hard Irish Border has plagued negotiations.

The EU favours a potential backstop arrangement which would see customs remain aligned between Northern Ireland and the EU - which the DUP stridently opposes.

In the emails seen by 'The Observer', an adviser involved in the Brexit talks describes Ms Foster's comments during a meeting with the leader of the Conservative MEPs, Ashley Fox.

Brexit blues: UK Prime Minister Theresa May is in danger of losing the support of the DUP, whose backing she needs to stay in power. Photo: PA
Brexit blues: UK Prime Minister Theresa May is in danger of losing the support of the DUP, whose backing she needs to stay in power. Photo: PA

"She described Barnier as being difficult and hostile in her meeting today," the exchange reads.

"AF [Arlene Foster] said the DUP was ready for a no-deal scenario, which she now believed was the likeliest one."

It is also noted that it was not clear whether the DUP leader was threatening to end the confidence and supply deal with the Conservative Government, or was simply making her plans clear.

Meanwhile, Ms Foster was criticised for attending a Gaelic football match at a meeting of the DUP executive in Omagh last week.

The Fermanagh MLA is said to be facing challenges for her leadership of the party and was criticised for attending the Ulster final last year.

Ms Foster was widely praised for being the first leader of the party to attend a GAA match when she watched Donegal play against Fermanagh in June of this year. However, at the DUP meeting her attendance was criticised, according to Sam McBride of the Belfast 'News Letter'.

Her presence at the game was thought of as an olive branch to the GAA community in the North. However, some in the DUP felt she was overstepping the mark.

Ms Foster was reported to have told those present that she has no intention of stepping down as party leader ahead of their annual conference at the end of next month.

A formal challenge will have to be filed in order for Ms Foster to vacate her position - something that has never happened before in the DUP.

A member of the party who was at the meeting said criticisms of how Ms Foster is running the party received loud applause and he described the meeting as "very acrimonious".

He said the chair of the meeting, Maurice Morrow, tried to put an end to the debate but was unable to do so due to the strength of the arguments.

At the meeting, which was kicked off with prayer and a scriptural exhortation, Ms Foster was also criticised for the "cash for ash" scandal and her defending of special advisers for the scheme.

However, DUP MP Sammy Wilson told the BBC that the party was firmly behind its leader.

Irish Independent

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