DUP leader Arlene Foster has issued a thinly veiled threat to the prime minister that MPs on both sides of the Commons will stand with her in opposing any Brexit deal which they believe weakens the Union.
Her comments came after it was reported that the UK and Brussels had reached a breakthrough on a Brexit text, which unconfirmed reports suggest keeps the UK within the customs union with no clarity on whether Northern Ireland will be subject to further specific regulations within the UK.
But Mrs Foster, whose party is propping up Theresa May’s Tory minority government, said a “desire for a deal will not be superseded by a willingness to accept any deal”.
“An agreement which places new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will fundamentally undermine the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. That is not acceptable.”
She added: “I am heartened by friends of the Union on both sides of the House and across the United Kingdom who have pledged to stand with the DUP in opposing a deal which weakens the Union and hands control to Brussels rather than Parliament.”
DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson said they had only seen excerpts of the deal on RTE.
Mr Wilson told the News Letter that some Tory, Labour and Scottish MPs have been expressing anger to him about the proposals and pledged support for the DUP position.
“From what we have been able to see so far, it appears this is just a dressed-up version of the deal that was offered to her in March, which she said no British prime minister could accept.”
Some Tory MPs are furious, he said, feeling Mrs May has torn up their manifesto and is steering the UK into being tied into:
• Permanent customs union and EU regulations
• Limiting the UK from striking trade deals outside the EU
• Giving the EU the right to decide when the UK would be freed from the customs union
• Potentially giving the European Court of Justice the veto on when the UK can leave.
The prime minister personally voted to remain with the EU, he noted. “Cynics in her own party say this was the deliberate end game – to keep the UK within the EU.
“This offers us the worst of all worlds; becoming less of a sovereign nation [without MEPs] while still under EU control. At least with what we had before we had some input and yet had the right to leave.”
NI parties remained focused on whether the deal would avoid a hard border or protect the integrity of the Union.
UUP leader Robin Swann said there must not be any “ambiguity” and that the outcome must maintain “the integrity of the UK”, while SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party would support the deal “if it involves a backstop that protects Ireland from a hard border”.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said the taoiseach gave a “cast-iron” promise of no hard border, adding that it is now “a matter of concern that some are presenting the [proposed] backstop agreement as temporary”.
But Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said that “an open-ended backstop” is “critical to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid a hard border”.
The Irish government has dismissed reports of a breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations as “speculation”.