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Analysis

DUP says it won’t be DUPED

by Hugo Dixon | 03.10.2018

The DUP says it won’t be DUPED. If Theresa May fudges a Brexit deal that could leave Northern Ireland semi-detached from the rest of the UK, the Democratic Unionist Party will pull the plug on her government. That was the stark warning given by two of its top leaders yesterday.

The prime minister, of course, insists that she is doing nothing of the sort – that she is determined to preserve “our precious union”. But at the same time her Brexit secretary has said he is looking at how regulatory checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain might work – so her government is speaking with a forked tongue.

The DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “We cannot have either a customs border or a regulatory border down the Irish Sea… We are not bluffing” Meanwhile, the party’s leader in the House of Commons told the Guardian “we will vote against” May if she returns from Brussels with a deal that involves new checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Britain.

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One mooted solution to the Irish border issue is for the UK to agree a legally-watertight “backstop” in our withdrawal agreement, detailing how Northern Ireland could have to follow EU rules and customs procedures, but come up with reassuring language in the accompanying political declaration suggesting that this backstop will never be used. Dodds said the party would not be fobbed off with such guarantees: “The deal on the future relationship will have to be crystal clear and not a fudge, we won’t settle for any vague outline of a future relationship in exchange for a backstop, that is simply not going to happen.”

Meanwhile May is trying to play the Northern Ireland card in her battle with Boris Johnson. She said she was “cross” about his rabble-rousing speech to the Conservative conference yesterday because “he wanted to tear up our guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland”.

But the DUP seems to be siding with the former foreign secretary, who has described the backstop as a “suicide vest” – despite being part of the the Cabinet that agreed to the principle back in December. Foster said the party’s confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Conservatives was “party to party” and not with May herself, confirming she would work with any Tory leader and endorsing Johnson’s “positive” vision for Brexit.

As the DUP, May and Johnson all raise the stakes on the Irish border, the chances of getting a deal with the EU that our Parliament could accept are shrinking. If there’s no deal – or there’s a deal that the DUP vetoes – the only sensible solution will be to ask the people what they want.