Unionists of all shades have expressed serious concerns that aspects of draft Brexit legislation due to be published tomorrow could undermine the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
There has been mounting speculation that the text on phase one of the EU’s Brexit legislation could drop key clauses inserted at the behest of the DUP in a preliminary joint report in December.
The sections concerned were intended to ensure that there would be no barriers or differences made in any way between Northern Ireland and Great Britain after Brexit and that the Union would not be undermined.
However, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said his government was “very happy” with the unpublished text, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged that it might not be acceptable to the UK and unionists - but it will avoid a hard border.
“We cannot automatically assume it will be acceptable to the United Kingdom or acceptable to all the parties in Northern Ireland so we could have an interesting few weeks ahead of us,” he said.
Tomorrow’s draft text needs to become legal by October.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson said the UK Government shared DUP concerns that “the omission of sections of the December Joint Report are unacceptable”.
He added: “We expect the Government to kick back hard on those aspects [of Wednesday’s text] which don’t reflect the balance of the agreement already made between the EU and the Government.”
DUP MEP Diane Dodds said the EU was pushing an agenda which would be “catastrophic” to Northern Ireland, which, she claimed, sells more to the rest of the UK than to the Republic, the rest of the EU and the rest of the world combined.
Mrs Dodds noted that the EU’s Brexit chief, Guy Verhofstadt, said he expected “there would be no divergence in norms, rules or standards between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland” in the new text.
The MEP was “not surprised but greatly disappointed by the comments” and that such an outcome would be “constitutionally unacceptable and economically disastrous”.
In any negotiation, each side will endeavour to progress its objectives, she said, but for the EU to propose a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is “reckless”.
UUP MEP Jim Nicholson called on the Government to protect the integrity of the UK.
“There are some who see Brexit as an opportunity to weaken Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom,” he said.
“There are others who see cutting off Northern Ireland as a clean way to make Brexit easier.”
“It is up to the Government to ensure it stands by its commitments that the integrity of the United Kingdom, and its own single market, will not be compromised.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said the UK would be tested.
“No Unionist should be ignorant of the game plan,” he said.
“Tying Northern Ireland into the EU so that it is effectively treated as part of Ireland, rather than part of a UK that has departed the EU, is the Brussels plan. Constitutional sabotage is its aim.”