Arlene Foster to meet Leo Varadkar in Dublin as Brexit talks intensify

DUP leader Arlene Foster is to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin today. Picture by Victoria Jones, Press Association

ARLENE Foster is to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin today amid claims she is planning for a 'no deal' Brexit.

The DUP leader will hold a private meeting with Mr Varadkar on the same day as the Sinn Féin leadership is due to meet British Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in London.

Mrs Foster's trip has been seen as an indication she believes the DUP can get some concessions from the Irish government ahead of a crunch European Union summit on Wednesday.

A possible Brexit deal collapsed last night after the British government and EU failed to reach agreement on a 'backstop' which would prevent customs posts at the border if the UK crashes out of the union without a formal agreement.

Leaked emails seen by the Observer newspaper show the DUP leader is preparing for a 'no deal' Brexit.

According to the exchange between senior UK officials, Mrs Foster gave her views during a dinner with the leader of Conservative MEPs, Ashley Fox.

The leaked email said Mrs Foster described the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier as "difficult and hostile".

"AF [Arlene Foster] said the DUP were ready for a no-deal scenario, which she now believed was the likeliest one," the email read.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph on Saturday, Mrs Foster said she appreciated the risks of a no-deal Brexit but "the dangers of a bad deal are worse".

She added: "The DUP's actions this week are not as some have suggested about 'flexing muscle'.

"This is no game.

"Anyone engaging in this in a light-hearted way foolishly fails to grasp the gravity of the decisions we will make in the coming weeks."

Speaking ahead of today's meeting, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the 'confidence and supply' deal between the minority Tory government and the DUP was "toxic".

"The DUP have aligned themselves with the hard right of the Brexiteers at the cost of imposing a hard border in Ireland, undermining our agreements and crashing out of the EU without an agreement," she said.

"The DUP do not represent the majority of people in the north on Brexit nor our economic interests and oppose the Good Friday Agreement. They cannot be allowed to set the pace for Brexit or political progress in the north."

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna accused the DUP and Sinn Féin of "playing to the gallery" during key negotiations.

"The people of Northern Ireland are very ill-served by the DUP and Sinn Féin; the actions of the former facilitated by the inaction of the latter," she said.

Meanwhile, the News Letter reported that Mrs Foster's leadership is coming under pressure from critics within her own party.

At a meeting of the DUP executive in Omagh, Co Tyrone, last week, she reportedly faced criticism over the party's role in the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, the influence of un-elected special advisers and Mrs Foster's attendance at the GAA Ulster Final over the summer.

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