DUP threaten to vote against Tories if Brexit 'hybrid backstop' threatens red lines
THE DUP has put pressure on an already squeezed Theresa May by threatening to vote against the Tory government's budget later this month if it scents compromise on the party's Brexit red lines.
A senior DUP source is understood to have briefed broadcast journalists that the party could effectively pull the plug on Mrs May's minority government if she concedes to new regulatory checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Britain.
While defeat for the Tories' minority government is unlikely to trigger an immediate general election, the loss of a key Westminster vote on October 29 would destabilise Mrs May's government at a decisive time in the Brexit negotiations.
Ian Paisley's suspension from Westminster until November 20, means the party currently has nine representatives in the House of Commons.
Reports that the DUP's MPs were prepared to ditch the confidence and supply deal that has prevailed for almost 18 months came as Arlene Foster continued a series of meetings in Brussels.
The DUP leader has used the trip to reiterate her party's opposition to any fresh trade barriers with the rest of the UK.
In recent days there has been speculation that Mrs May could table proposals aimed at avoiding a hard border ahead of next week's European Council summit.
Unionists fear the UK's so-called 'hybrid backstop' could result in regulatory checks that leave Northern Ireland discrete in relation to the rest of UK.
DUP deputy Nigel Dodds has already warned the party's MPs would vote against Mrs May if she agreed to new checks on goods moving between the north and Britain.
A DUP spokesman said: "The government is well aware of our position on this issue – our position hasn't changed and we don't expect the government will change its position."
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said her party had predicted that the DUP-Tory pact would "end in tears".
"Our task now is to ensure that Ireland doesn’t become collateral damage in the Tory party civil war or in the divisions that are now emerging between the DUP and Theresa May’s government," she said.
Following Tuesday's meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Mrs Foster yesterday continued her engagement with the key Brussels' players in the Brexit process.
After meeting European Parliament Brexit representative Guy Verhofstadt, the DUP leader said she was encouraging representatives of the EU27 to recognise the damage to Northern Ireland caused by any deal which annexed the region from the UK.
"Firstly, it is clear from our meetings that any form of border in Irish Sea will impede access for Northern Ireland to new UK trade deals – that removes one of the key benefits of leaving the EU," she said.
"Secondly, best of both worlds is not on offer – the EU wants a one-way turnstile from GB and one way rules from Brussels."
Her final concern was that new regulatory checks would create future problems and that the north would have to follow EU rules, but with no power to influence them.
"We will not burden future generations with a deal which diminishes Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom," she said.