Pressure grows on Theresa May as DUP reveals Brexit 'shock'
Brexit Pressure grows on Theresa May as DUP reveals Brexit 'shock'
Unease from senior cabinet members over tactics compound problems facing PM over Irish border question
Theresa May is facing mounting pressure to secure a breakthrough in EU negotiations after the Democratic Unionist party expressed shock at the handling of the Irish border question and Brexit supporting Tories said the time had come to walk away.
Senior cabinet members also voiced unease at Mayâs tactics, and complained they were not informed in advance about Downing Streetâs plan to promise the EU some form of âregulatory alignmentâ to help move the divorce talks on to the next stage.
Sources warned that key Brexit-supporters in Mayâs top team âwould take issueâ if they believed that anything was agreed that could limit the UKâs ability to diverge from the EU in the future.
On the day after May was forced to step back from securing a deal on divorce negotiations after a last-minute intervention from the DUP:
- Party leader, Arlene Foster, revealed that she had been asking the government for the wording of text relating to the Irish border for five weeks. She said it was a âbig shockâ when the document landed on Monday morning because âwe realised there was no way we could sign up to that textâ.
- Former Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith said it would be âi ntolerableâ to bind the UK to EU regulations prior to trade talks, telling the BBC that the government was starting to âstare at the edge of what is a price that we simply cannot afford to payâ
- Former cabinet minister, Nicky Morgan, hit back saying that âWalking away when the Brexiteers encounter difficulties they never bothered to anticipate is not in the national interest, betrays the futures of millions of young people and those who never wanted to leave in the first place.â
May was due to talk to Foster and Sinn FÃ©in leader Michelle OâNeill on Tuesday night but the DUP leader delayed her conversation with the prime minister, amid suggestions that the DUP believed there was too much work still to be done on the wording of the divorce deal text.
Senior cabinet sources revealed that discussions of Mayâs recent inner-cabinet on Brexit talks had covered the question of how to calculate the divorce bill and questions relating to the Europe an Court of Justice but not regulation and the Irish border.
And it was even suggested that David Davis only saw that the word âalignmentâ, which caused much of the controversy, was added to the text on Sunday evening. A Whitehall source insisted that simply reflected âhow late the text was being worked onâ.
The Brexit secretary was called to address MPs about the issue on Tuesday in an urgent question from Labourâs Keir Starmer. He tried to urgently reassure the DUP, on whom the Tories rely for votes, by promising that any Brexit deal that applies to Northern Ireland would also cover the rest of UK.
Davis admitted that the government was seeking âregulatory alignmentâ with the EU in some circumstances, but insisted that it would be UK-wide and that it did not mean retaining exactly the same rules as the EU.
âThe presumption of the discussion was that everything we talked about applied to the whole United Kingdom,â he said. âAlign ment isnât harmonisation. It isnât having exactly the same rules. It is sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection â" that is what we are aiming at.â
The phone call with Foster - which Downing st said was due to go ahead- had not been agreed with the DUP, and the party was reluctant to go ahead without an agreement on the text. The Guardian understands that there remained fundamental disagreements about the wording on Tuesday, with âradical surgeryâ required to make progress.
Sources revealed that the Irish government had requested that the text include a section on what might happen if there is no trade agreement between the EU and UK, and so the Irish border becomes difficult to solve.
In those circumstances, which Downing Street sources said they believed would not happen, May was willing to offer some alignment. But the DUP fear that would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
Davis tri ed to reassure the unionists that would not happen after facing a string of interventions from Scottish, Welsh and English MPs who insisted that any deal must be UK-wide.
But Foster said her partyâs reading of the words suggested they were âmaking a red line down the Irish seaâ.
DUP MP Nigel Dodds focused his ire on the Irish government in a passionate intervention during the debate in parliament. He said the republic had advanced its interests in an âaggressive and anti-unionist wayâ, and had âset back Anglo-Irish relations and damaged the relationships built up within Northern Ireland in terms of the devolution settlement, and that is going to take a long time to repairâ.
He added: âWe will not allow any settlement to be agreed which causes a divergence, politically or economically, of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, because to do so would not just be politically damaging but would be economically catastrophic for everyone in Northern Ireland â" unionist, nationalist, Brexiter or remainer.â
Writing for the Guardian, Starmer suggested that rethinking the red line on leaving the customs union could help solve the problem of committing to a soft Irish border.Theresa Mayâs Brexit red lines were reckless. Now she has to cross them | Keir Starmer Read more
He wrote: âThe most effective way forward would be for Theresa May to rethink her reckless red lines and to put options such as a UK customs union with the EU back on the table. If she does not, the farcical scenes of Monday will merely be a precursor to the rest of the negotiations.â
Davis claimed that his only red line was delivering the best Brexit for Britain after Jacob Rees Mogg suggested that regulatory divergence was a must after Brexit.
Meanwhile, May was warned that she has less than a week to salvage a Brexit deal that would open trade talks before the end of the year, amid increasing signs of impatie nce within the EU over her handling of the process.
EU negotiators expect the prime minister to return to Brussels very soon, but have said time is running out to strike a deal at a European summit next week.
âThe show is now in London,â said the chief spokesman of the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. âWe stand ready here in the commission to resume talks with the United Kingdom at any moment in time when we get the sign that London is ready.âTopics
- Theresa May
- Northern Ireland
- Arlene Foster
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