Arlene Foster says DUP would consider backing Brexit deal if Boris Johnson secures time-limit to backstop

DUP leader insists agreement with EU can still be reached 'even at this late stage'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Sunday 29 September 2019 16:51
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Boris Johnson rules out possibility of resigning

The DUP would consider voting for the current Brexit deal if Boris Johnson can secure a time-limit to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop, Arlene Foster has said.

The Northern Irish party leader ruled out supporting any backstop that would apply only to Northern Ireland, but said the DUP would "look at" a time-limit if the EU were to offer one.

Ms Foster also confirmed that the DUP will back Mr Johnson in any confidence vote, amid speculation that one could be called in the coming days.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservatives' annual conference in Manchester, Ms Foster said she did not believe that the Irish government or the EU would be willing to put a time limit on the backstop, which would see the UK stay in a temporary customs union with the EU if no trade deal can be agreed.

She said: "In terms of the time-limited backstop, [Irish taoiseach] Leo Varadkar says it's not a backstop at all. We've said in the past that it is something that we would look at. I don't know if it's something Leo Varadkar would look but certainly if a time-limited backstop was on offer, it's something we would look at. But I don't believe it is at this present moment in time."

Ms Foster insisted that the DUP would strongly oppose any Brexit deal that would see Northern Ireland adopt different customs rules to the rest of the UK.

She said: "We've been very, very clear that we have to leave on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. We cannot have an internal customs border within the United Kingdom. It would just be anathema.

"It has constitutional implications as well as economic implications. When you think of the amount of trade we do east to west and west to east, it completely blows out of the water the north-south trade...

"Therefore customs [checks], from a constitutional point of view and from an economic point of view, do not work internally within the United Kingdom."

She added: "You have to understand that the whole raison d'etre of the DUP is the union - it's the reason we get involved in politics, it's the reason that we stay involved in politics despite all the challenges that come to us in Northern Ireland. It's about keeping the union and talking about the benefits of the union."

Despite the apparent deadlock in Brexit talks, Ms Foster insisted that a solution could be found, saying: "I think even at this late stage we can find a deal that is acceptable to the House of Commons and is acceptable to Europe."

As Mr Johnson continues to threaten to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on 31 October, opposition party leaders are set to meet on Monday to plan their next move, with the option of a no-confidence vote in the government likely to be discussed.

Ms Foster confirmed that her party would back Mr Johnson in any such vote, claiming that the alternative of a Labour government would be "a disaster for Northern Ireland".

She said: "Putting Jeremy Corbyn into government is not something that the Democratic Unionist Party will ever be accused of. He would be a disaster for Northern Ireland, he would be a disaster for the United Kingdom, both in terms of the economy and in terms of defence and security."

Her comments came after Mr Johnson hinted that some EU members could veto any further delay to Brexit - and refused to rule out asking another EU leader to do so.

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "It is certainly true that other EU countries also don't want this thing to keep dragging on.

"They don't want the UK to remain in the EU, truculent and mutinous and in a limbo, and not wishing to co-operate in the way that they would like.

"They want a good deal and there's the opportunity now to get a good deal.

Hours later, his foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, accused the EU of "disrespecting" the UK.

Speaking from the podium at the conference in Manchester, he said: "I think the British people have had more than enough of EU leaders disrespecting British prime ministers.

"So we’ll strive in good faith for a deal, but if the EU spurn the opportunity for a win-win deal, we will leave at the end of October - no ifs, no buts.

"We want to stay good European neighbours, but we'll be free to chart our own course, as masters of our own destiny – at home and abroad, with a more liberal and energetic approach to free trade."

Shortly afterwards, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the House of Commons leader, suggested that the EU would not exist for much longer in its current form.

He said: "I think the problems with the Euro are so deep-seated that the current Euro project, European Union project, can’t last long into the future. But things often last longer than one anticipates."

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