DUP MEP Diane Dodds has accused European Council president Donald Tusk of resorting to “bully-boy tactics” over the Irish border issue post-Brexit.
It comes after the European Union issued a fresh warning to the UK that a transitional deal after Brexit will not be secured unless the problem of the Irish border is resolved.
Mr Tusk told MEPs that the UK had created the issue as a result of the Brexit vote and had a duty to find a solution.
His comments came as Theresa May faced a battle in the House of Lords, with peers set to push for the UK to remain in a customs union after leaving the EU – something which they claim could help address the issues around the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
But Mrs Dodds said the EU has joint responsibility alongside the UK government to find “pragmatic solutions to what are mutual challenges”.
And she said her party has made it clear that it has not passed the point of no return for a ‘no deal’ scenario, claiming Mr Tusk’s “aggressive stance is not in the interests of a workable accommodation”.
Reiterating the DUP’s position that it “will not compromise” Northern Ireland’s place in the UK, Mrs Dodds continued: “The EU must move away from the notion of special treatment to smart solutions.”
The prime minister hopes to secure a transitional deal which would see the UK continue to follow EU rules and trade with the bloc on similar terms until the end of 2020, when a comprehensive deal on a new partnership could take over.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Tusk said he welcomed the progress that had been made in the Brexit talks.
In a message that the government could not simply leave it to the Irish and EU to decide what the customs arrangements at the border should be – as some Brexiteers have suggested – Mr Tusk said: “The UK’s decision on Brexit has caused the problem and the UK will have to help solve it. Without a solution, there will be no withdrawal agreement and no transition.
“Leaders will assess the negotiations in June. In parallel we will start our first talks about the future EU-UK relationship.”
UUP MEP Jim Nicholson said Mr Tusk should “engage positively with the UK government, rather than simply following the increasingly divisive political approach of Dublin”.
He added: “The prime minister said quite rightly last month that it would be wrong for the UK to abdicate its responsibilities and insist the EU alone finds a solution, but it is equally wrong to insist it should be left to the UK to solve.
“It is in the interests of all parties that a workable solution is found, and it was very unhelpful for Brussels and Dublin to reject her offer of tripartite talks on the border issue.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that Mr Tusk’s comments should serve as a “final wake-up call” to the government on the Irish border issue.
“The comments from Donald Tusk couldn’t be clearer – the European Union are not bluffing. They are not bluffing on their commitment that there can be no hardening of the Irish border and they are not bluffing in saying that no deal will be done until this fundamental issue is resolved.”
In Westminster, the prime minister faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of a cross-party alliance in the Lords.
The upper chamber resumes debate on the government’s flagship Brexit legislation on Wednesday with an alliance of Labour, Liberal Democrat and crossbench peers – along with Tory rebels – eager to soften the prime minister’s approach.