Brexit

Increased hope of Brexit deal as DUP remains onboard

Arlene Foster said her party would continue to 'exercise our considerable influence' over the British government. Picture by Rebecca Black/PA Wire

THERE was growing optimism about the prospect of securing a Brexit deal last night after the DUP appeared open to accepting the revised proposals that emerged after Thursday's meeting between the taoiseach and the British prime minister.

As negotiations in Brussels entered the intensive 'tunnel' phase, the key players were staying tight-lipped about shape of a prospective agreement.

However, it is understood that what's being offered involves Northern Ireland leaving the customs union along with the rest of the UK yet continuing to apply its rules, therefore avoiding a hard border.

In the aftermath of Thursday's hastily-arranged meeting between Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar the mood around the negotiations was noticeably more positive.

It appears the British government has now conceded its proposals for customs checks on goods crossing the border.

Under the revised plan, customs and regulatory checks would take place at points of entry into the north – a solution many are characterising as a Northern Ireland-only backstop

A mechanism for ensuring cross-community consent for the future arrangements is also expected to be a key plank in any agreement.

A lengthy statement from DUP leader Arlene Foster spelled out her party's conditions for supporting a deal. Notably, however, she kept open the possibility of endorsing any agreement that emerges.

She said her party would continue to "exercise our considerable influence" over the British government and that support for any deal was conditional on it being in the north's "long-term economic and constitutional interests".

She said Brexit needed to be delivered and that her party would not back any measures which "traps Northern Ireland in the European Union".

Mrs Foster said any agreement must be "balanced and sensible" and that it would only succeed "with the support of the unionist as well as the nationalist community".

She said 2017's Joint Report had outlined the outlined the need requirement for consent if the north was to align to aspects of the single market.

"We have held steadfast to that position whilst recognising the need to be flexible and look at Northern Ireland specific solutions achieved with the support and consent of the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland," the DUP leader said.

"In order to secure a sensible deal for everyone it is important that the European Union understand that to maximise the prospects of agreement there will need to be a clear acceptance that the economic and constitutional integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom will have to be respected as we leave."

Mrs Foster stressed that the DUP remained in a position of influence at Westminster and that her party would judge any deal on its stated criteria, including the stipulation that the UK "must leave the EU as one nation and in so doing that no barriers to trade are erected within the UK".

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said any deal must have "legal and enduring guarantees that deliver for Ireland".

"Any deal should include the backstop as the bottom line in protecting Ireland and protecting the Good Friday Agreement," she said.

"No veto can be given to unionism on protections for Ireland."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the "positive reports" about the potential for a deal.

"People, businesses and communities on this island need the certainty of knowing that there will be no hard border, no physical infrastructure and no tariff wall impeding their lives and livelihoods," he said.

Alliance's Stephen Farry said any agreement needed to recognise the north's "unique circumstances".

"It is hard to be optimistic given the past few years, but Alliance is clear any withdrawal agreement must recognise the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland – ensuring open borders, protecting our economy and respecting the Good Friday Agreement fully," he said.

Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Reg Empey said the DUP had "opened the door to the separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK".

"Once the principle of a fully integrated UK economy under one legal system is surrendered then further concessions will be sought. It is shameful that we have been led into this position," he said.

As negotiations in Brussels intensified following yesterday's "constructive meeting" between EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to say what concessions he had made but said "under no circumstances" would he agree to a deal that damages the ability of all of the UK to "take full advantage" of Brexit.

He also cautioned that it is not yet a "done deal".

"There's a way to go – it's important now that our negotiators on both sides get into proper talks about how to sort this thing out," he said.

The pound rose for the second day on international money markets as traders welcomed signs that a Brexit deal may be possible.

Meanwhile, European Council president Donald Tusk handed the PM a last-minute reprieve to secure an agreement, but warned that the UK still had not presented a "workable, realistic proposal".

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