PM 'must listen to other NI voices, not just DUP'

Theresa May's Brexit plans have come under fresh doubt after her Democratic Unionist party allies (DUP) said a letter from her "raises alarm bells", suggesting she will not be able to depend on its support to get the proposals through parliament.

Speaking at the British-Irish Council summit on the Isle of Man, Mr Varadkar said he was hopeful a Brexit deal could be done by the end of the year but it would not amount to a "clean break" as talks would have to continue.

It comes as tensions are mounting between the DUP and the British Prime Minister over the future of Northern Ireland post-Brexit. "From her letter, it appears the PM is wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea with NI in the EU SM regulatory regime".

"A successful outcome is not guaranteed but I think it is possible in the next couple of weeks", Mr Varadkar said.

Without DUP support for a deal, May will have much less chance of getting her deal through parliament.

"The PM knows the consequences, she now needs to reconsider", DUP lawmaker Sammy Wilson said.

DUP Leader Arlene Foster at Stormont in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on November 2, 2018.

Downing Street says the letter sets out the prime minister's commitment "to never accepting any circumstances in which the United Kingdom is divided into two customs territories".

The DUP has interpreted the wording of her letter to mean that Northern Ireland-only measures will be contained in the Brexit divorce deal despite Mrs May's insistence it will never come into effect.

According to The Times, the DUP have taken Mrs May's words to mean a Northern Ireland-only backstop arrangement will still be included in the legal text of the UK's divorce deal with the European Union, despite her assurance she will not allow it to "come into force".

But both Mr Lidington and Ireland's Leo Varadkar suggested a deal could be reached between the United Kingdom and European Union in the coming weeks.

This so-called "backstop to the backstop" would see Northern Ireland become wedded to the EU single market and customs union should London and Brussels fail to strike a permanent trade deal.

"The most important thing for me is the objective and that is to give everyone in northern Ireland and Ireland assurance that a hard border will not develop between north and south no matter what else may happen in the years ahead", Varadkar said.

That would include both a withdrawal agreement, governing the terms of Britain's exit, and a political declaration about the future trading relationship the two sides hope to negotiate after Brexit.

Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said the British government needed to honour its commitments to avoid a hard border rather than promises made to the DUP.

  • Rogelio Becker