Ben Lowry: Barnier is trying to drive wedge between Brexiteers and the DUP

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier

Michel Barnier has offered an escape route from the customs union.

But it was merely an attempt to divide DUP from eurosceptic Tories because it only applied to Great Britain. By excluding Northern Ireland he knew he was tempting English Brexiteers to abandon NI.

A huge problem for the DUP is that its moderating position on Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement has caused some alarm in sections of the Conservative Party.

On Thursday on BBC, Michael Portillo said “surely” the DUP could not accept compromising the integrity of the UK, but he seemed to have an uncertain tone.

A long essay last week by the Tory MEP Dan Hannan was implicitly scathing of any notion of unionist acceptance of the Irish backstop on economic grounds (see link below).

He went on to tell his mostly English readers: “Could any Ulster Unionist accept such a settlement? Don’t underestimate the canny, materialistic aspect of unionism.”

This can hardly have been comfortable reading for those members of the DUP who are sensitive to suggestions that the party can be easily bought.

That, for example, supporters can be bought to back an Irish language act by pumping money at Ulster Scots. Or that legacy concessions can be bought by directing money to certain victim groups.

That Sinn Fein demands will be granted so that Stormont power and patronage returns.

That some people were more inclined to battle to keep RHI open than working to combat Sinn Fein’s long game, or than drawing up a pre Brexit referendum strategy.

Because if Brexiteer Tories think the DUP might not stand by them, then they might not stand by it.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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