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DUP leader Arlene Foster threatens to pull out of Tory deal if Northern Ireland treated differently in Brexit deal

DUP leader Arlene Foster has threatened to pull out of the confidence-and-supply agreement with the Conservatives if Northern Ireland is treated differently in any Brexit deal. Picture by Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire
John Monaghan

DUP leader Arlene Foster has threatened to pull out of a deal to prop up Theresa May's government if it adopts a Brexit deal that treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

Mrs Foster dismissed as "speculation" a proposal reportedly suggested by Brexit Secretary David Davis - and rejected by Downing Street - that would see Northern Ireland covered by a joint regime of UK and EU customs regulations, allowing it to trade freely with both, plus a 10-mile wide "special economic zone" on the border with Ireland.

The DUP leader said that the idea was "not something that I recognise or something that has been put to us".

In an interview with Sky News, Mrs Foster warned that customs parity with Britain was a "red line" for her party, whose 10 MPs support the Conservatives in Westminster under a "supply and demand" arrangement.

She said: "For us, our only red line is that we are not treated any different from the rest of the United Kingdom, that there are no trade barriers put up between Northern Ireland and our biggest market which, of course, is Great Britain.

"That's what we will judge all of the propositions that are brought forward, we will judge it against that red line and she's very much aware of that, and I have confidence that she knows that she cannot bring forward anything that will breach that red line or we simply will not be able to support them."

Cabinet ministers were last month tasked with analysing the two main options so far put forward for the Irish border, a "customs partnership" proposal that would see Britain continue to collect tariffs on behalf of the EU and the technology-based "maximum facilitation" - or "max fac" - solution. Mr Davis' idea was dubbed "max fac 2".

Brussels has already rejected both schemes, with chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier saying on Friday that neither was "operational or acceptable".

EU leaders including the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have called for progress by the time the European Council meets at the end of June, with Tanaiste Simon Coveney on Saturday also telling the Irish Times the UK must produce "written proposals" for the border within the next two weeks.

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