The draft Brexit deal presents a “false choice” as a legal backstop is not needed to maintain a free flowing Irish border, Arlene Foster has insisted.
The DUP leader pointed to remarks by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he was “not contemplating” a hard border in the event of a no-deal Brexit as evidence the issue was “only ever a negotiating tactic by the European Union”.
“The Taoiseach’s comments that the Irish government is not contemplating a hard border in the event the Withdrawal Agreement is rejected by Parliament underlines why a focus on the backstop was only ever a negotiating tactic by the European Union,” said Ms Foster.
“We have been told that the backstop is only necessary to prevent such a hard border, but these comments make it clear that the EU’s insistence on a backstop was not aimed at this. The European Union’s focus on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has only ever been a negotiating tactic to secure its own aims in the negotiations.
“The comments also further underscore how the inclusion of a border down the Irish Sea within the current Withdrawal Agreement is not only unacceptable, but is also unnecessary.
“The Withdrawal Agreement was based on the false choice that an internal UK border was the only way to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.”
Ms Foster and party colleagues are angry at the deal’s proposed ‘backstop’ - the trading system that would operate on the island in the absence of a broader UK/EU deal - claiming the proposal for Northern Ireland to adhere to a different regulatory framework than Great Britain would undermine the United Kingdom.
While Mr Varadkar said on Sunday he was not contemplating a hard border in the event of a crash Brexit, on Friday he said one would be “very difficult to avoid” in a no-deal scenario.
“In a no-deal scenario it would be very difficult to avoid a hard border because of the obvious fact that, as Ireland remaining part of the European Union, we would no doubt be asked to implement European law,” he said.
“Also the United Kingdom having left the European Union would seek to join the World Trade Organisation.
“They would have to implement WTO rules so those hard Brexiteers who say that somehow just through political will you can avoid a hard border that doesn’t make sense.”
He added: “The only way we can avoid a hard border is by an agreement.”
In her latest statement on the controversial backstop issue, Ms Foster said: “The agreement that has been put on the table is clearly not a good deal and no-one should be forced into accepting another false choice.
“This really bad deal would lock us into the EU with no way out. We would be trapped. Those attempting to sell the current deal are using the threat of no-deal as the only other option. I appreciate the concerns people have about a no deal but this should not be a binary choice. It is absolutely clear that it is time to work for a better deal.”