Government rejects Arlene Foster’s claim of refusing to share wording
Brexit deal: Arlene Foster said British officials told her the Irish Government “wouldn’t allow them to share” the text of the proposed Border agreement. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty
Arlene Foster has accused the Irish Government of trying to prevent her party from seeing details of the Border deal that the UK was planning to agree with the European Commission in order to break the Brexit deadlock.
The DUP leader told Sky News on Tuesday that British officials told her the Government “wouldn’t allow them to share” the text of the proposed deal, which collapsed on Monday after a DUP rebellion at Westminster, where the party keeps Theresa May’s Conservative minority government in power through a confidence-and-supply arrangement.
The Irish Government rejected Ms Foster’s claims, saying it had “no role whatsoever in the negotiations conducted by the British government” and therefore “no involvement in any decision on which documents should go to the DUP”.
Ms Foster said the text of the proposed EU-UK deal that emerged on Monday, which would have allowed negotiations to move on to the next phase, came as a “big shock” to the DUP and she threatened her party would not support Brexit legislation in the House of Commons if the document was not changed.
“We have made it clear right throughout that our red line – and we have consistently talked about [it] – is that we couldn’t have a situation where Northern Ireland was different from the rest of the UK, because that would not just damage us constitutionally and politically but economically as well, ” she told RTÉ.
“That is something that came, obviously, as a big shock, and when we looked at the wording and saw the import of all of that, we knew we couldn’t sign up to anything that was in that text that would allow a border to develop in the Irish Sea.”
Ms Foster said that after her Monday press conference at Stormont she had an “open conversation” with the British prime minister, Theresa May, on the telephone and told her the matter “could have been dealt with differently”. She “does not want to cut off north-south trade” but “east-west must continue”, and “the two aren’t mutually exclusive but have been presented as thus in this document, and that is not something we can support”.
Ms Foster does not believe the Irish Government needs the detail it has asked for to move on to the next phase of negotiations. She also spoke of an “aggressive agenda from Dublin” and of unionists noting Simon Coveney’s recent remark that he would like to see a united Ireland in his political lifetime.
Last week Mr Coveney told the Irish News that for him to refuse to talk about such issues when asked a straight question “almost suggests I’m ashamed to be a nationalist – and I’m not. Just like no one should be ashamed to be a unionist.”
The DUP’s leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, has accused the Irish Government of “flexing their muscles”, being “anti-unionist” and “damaging Anglo-Irish relations”. He said that the text of the deal, received late on Monday morning, was too general and that it was good to see a commitment unfolding from a range of parties in the House of Commons on Tuesday that the integrity of the UK is to be protected.
When Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, spoke to Ms May on Tuesday she told her that “the DUP do not speak for the majority of the people of the North. The democratically expressed will of the people of the North is to remain in the EU . . . I told Theresa May that the Good Friday agreement was the clearest evidence of the unique and special circumstances of the island of Ireland.
“I made the case for designated special status within the EU, in the customs union and the single market. That is the only guarantee of stability and certainty that will deliver the full protection of the Good Friday agreement in all its parts, including Irish citizenship, and therefore the benefits of EU citizenship.”
On Wednesday evening the Sinn Féin politician John Finucane will address the first in a series of planned protests and demonstrations across Northern Ireland in support of designated special status for the North within the EU.
Mr Finucane said special status was a “commonsense, practical and achievable approach that we will continue to work to achieve in Belfast, in Dublin, in London and in Europe”.