Wednesday 24 July 2019

May's Brexit deal is 'dead' - says DUP's Arlene Foster

  • Arlene Foster responds to details of new measures for Northern Ireland designed to win over critics of the backstop
  • If May's deal is rejected, 'Plan B' could be outlined next week
  • May still hoping to receive 'further clarification' from Brussels on backstop
  • Taoiseach says not acceptable for Stormont to have a veto over backstop conditions
  • 'No hard border fundamentally red line we stand over' - Varadkar
Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: House of Commons/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: House of Commons/PA Wire

Cormac McQuinn and Laura Larkin

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Mrs May’s Brexit deal is "dead".

She told the BBC: "We would prefer if the backstop disappeared, what we've been presented with is a narrative and doesn't add anything."

Standoff: Anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray, left, and a pro-Brexit supporter outside the Houses of Parliament. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Standoff: Anti-Brexit protester Steve Bray, left, and a pro-Brexit supporter outside the Houses of Parliament. Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Ms Foster added: "We told Theresa May to stop wasting time last November, she is still not listening and she is going to put a plan to Parliament that is dead."

The DUP leader spoke as it was reported today that the Northern Ireland Assembly would have the power to veto new EU rules if the so-called backstop came into effect post-Brexit under proposals published by the British government.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is desperately seeking to build support for her Brexit deal ahead of a Westminster vote on the Withdrawal Agreement next week.

The backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland is the main sticking point with Brexit-supporting MPs fearing it would lock the UK into EU rules indefinitely.

The proposals published today are designed to allay concerns over the backstop but they were rejected early by Northern Ireland’s DUP, who Mrs May’s government relies on to stay in power.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson dismissed the document as “window-dressing” and a “meaningless piece of paper” insisting the backstop “has to go”.

Earlier British Cabinet Office minister David Lidington Mrs May’s de facto deputy said the measures in the document “make clear the continuing place of Northern Ireland within the UK internal market”

He added that the proposals “give the Northern Ireland Assembly - when, as we all hope, it is reconstituted and working again - a veto over introducing any new areas of law and policy into that backstop”.

A pro-Brexit protester demonstrates outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London. Photo: Getty Images
A pro-Brexit protester demonstrates outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London. Photo: Getty Images

Under the British government’s plans the Assembly – which collapsed almost two years ago amid a row between the DUP and Sinn Féin – would have a “strong role” if the backstop is ever triggered.

If a comprehensive EU/UK trade deal is not sealed by the end of the Brexit transition period in 2020, there would be a legally-binding commitment to "consult" with Stormont before deciding to either enter the backstop or ask for an extension of the Implementation Period.

The view of the Northern Ireland Assembly would then be presented to Parliament in Westminster before MPs took a final decision on the issue.

If the backstop does come into effect, the British Government said the Stormont Assembly and Executive would then be given a strong oversight role in its operation.

If the EU proposed changing any laws that impacted the operating of the backstop, the UK would have to consent to such a measure applying to Northern Ireland and the British Government has now committed to seek the agreement of the Assembly before signing off on any such change.

There was a cautious response to the proposals.

Leo Varadkar has said it would not be acceptable for Northern Ireland to have a veto over conditions attached to the backstop.

Speaking in Ethiopia, Mr Varadkar said he had not been fully briefed on the position paper published by the British government today which indicated Stormont would be given a veto over new EU laws if the so-called backstop is triggered.

“The existing Irish protocol does provide for an input by the Northern Ireland Assembly already but I don’t think we could have a situation whereby the Northern Ireland Executive or Assembly had a veto power because that would essentially give one of the two communities a veto power over the other and that would create a difficulty,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the people of Northern Ireland want to avoid a hard border which the current agreement provides for and said ratification for that deal is being sought now.

He said he did not have prior sight of the document before it was published but was given an indication some commitments would be made.

“They did indicate to us some weeks or months ago that they may make some unilateral commitments to Northern Ireland that would not contravene the Withdrawal Agreement but I didn't have prior sight of what was published today,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he was supportive of an amendment proposed in the House of Commons today that would give the Uk parliament a chance to vote on triggering the backstop or extending the transition period if a trade deal has not been reached by 2020.

He said Ireland was happy with the proposal and had previously discussed it with the UK government.

“We are happy with parliament making that decision because either way it means there will be no hard border and that’s fundamentally the red line that we stand over,” he said.

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