Foster says draft of UK-EU Brexit deal came as ‘big shock’ to DUP
The DUP leader Arlene Foster has said the text of the Irish border deal came as a “big shock” when she saw it yesterday.
In an interview with RTE News about to be broadcast she said her party only saw the text late yesterday morning as British and Irish officials were tying up loose ends ahead of Theresa May’s lunch meeting with Jean Claude Juncker.
“Once we saw the text, we knew it was not going to be acceptable,” she told RTE’s Northern Ireland correspondent Tommy Gorman.
She told him the DUP had been asking for the text for five weeks.
She also said she had a very open conversation with May after the DUP press conference in which she said they could sign not up to anything that would mean a border in the Irish sea.
She told her “it could have been dealt with differently”.
Foster said she had been told by British negotiators that the Irish government did not want her to see the text ahead of yesterday’s crunch meeting in Brussels.
“We are told that the Irish government prevented it coming to us.
Gorman asked: “Who told you that?”
She replied: “The British negotiating team”.
RTE’s Europe editor Tony Connelly has hit back at reports in the UK that his report of a leaked draft and amended document was part of “Irish propaganda” and unintentionally led to the collapse of talks.
He said “RTE protects its sources” but he was able to confirm the leak did not come from the Irish government. He also pointed out he reported the leak at 11.15am, 15 minutes after Jean Claude Juncker confirmed to Leo Varadkar that the British had agreed the final wording.
Varadkar gives Irish parliament more details of proposed UK-EU Brexit deal
The Irish prime minister has said he believes there is plenty of time to salvage the Irish border Brexit deal, scuppered by the DUP before it was inked.
Speaking for the second time since talks collapsed Leo Varadkar revealed that the controversial wording for the proposal to have “regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the EU post Brexit was British negotiator’s preferred option, not Ireland’s.
“There was an exchange of texts – one being regulatory divergence and no regulatory alignment.
“We satisfied ourselves on Sunday night that we could accept either of those two lines and ‘regulatory alignment’ was what was accepted by British advisers on Monday morning,” he told the Irish parliament during leader’s questions.
In the most detailed official account yet of the contents of the 15-page proposal, Varadkar revealed it provided for three potential outcomes in a final deal.
1) “UK free trade agreement that would allow free trade to continue not just north and south but between Britain and Ireland.”
2) “a bespoke arrangement involving technology and others things.”
3) if neither of this were agreed in the final Brexit deal there would be “ongoing regulatory alignment between north and south” which would have been “a back stop if all else failed”.
Varadkar told the Dail that “ball is now in London’s court” and he “very much regretted” that it was not possible to conclude matters yesterday.
But he said he was optimistic a deal could still be sealed as the EU council did not meet until 14 December, giving Theresa May enough time to square the proposal with the DUP.
The Irish Ambassador to London called for the Democratic Unionists to step back and reflect calmly at the proposal to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland post-Brexit, blaming garbled leaks for leading the DUP to reject a document the Irish government thought the Unionists had accepted.
Speaking at the Institute for Government in London, Adrian O’Neill also warned an agreement would have to be hammered out by the end of this week to be ready in time for the EU heads of government summit planned for next week. The summit has been slated to give the go ahead to the start of a second phase of Brexit talks focused on the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU.
Urging the DUP to stay calm, he said:
There are sometimes days like yesterday when something is about to happen, garbled versions get leaked in the media, people adopt robust positions, everyone gets very worked up, and sometimes it gets very difficult to de-escalate that in a couple of hours, and get people back into deal making.
Sometimes what is needed for everyone to step back and to calmly think about it and to focus on the totality of the package on the table. Our hope is that is possible and the British government and the DUP are able to re-engage, and look at this afresh.
He urged the DUP through “calm reflection to look at the document holistically”.
He insisted the document contained a range of reassurances for unionists, including a recognition that the future constitutional status of Northern Ireland can only be altered by the provisions of the Good Friday agreement . The agreement prevents the unification of the island without referenda on both sides of the border.
He did not deny specifically that the Irish government had been responsible for the leak in Brussels that so upset the DUP, saying instead it is never wise to make assumptions about the sources of leaks.
And he indicated that aspects of the agreement for Ireland would not be settled until the second stage of the talks.
There was a clear commitment to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, but he said the leaked passage in the document about preventing regulatory divergence was a backstop, and alternative routes to securing this goal that were closer to the UK government positions had also been set out as alternatives in the document.
David Davis’s Commons Brexit statement – Summary and analysis