Brexit: DUP defends plan to treat NI differently from rest of UK

The DUP has stood over its support for Boris Johnson’s proposed Brexit deal, despite other unionists accusing it of having been “reckless” in accepting the principle of regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and GB.

Sunday, 6th October 2019, 8:51 pm
DUP chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson defended his partys actions in agreeing to the proposed deal

Last week the party dropped its opposition to a regulatory border in the Irish Sea in exchange for a role for Stormont in agreeing to Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the UK and for keeping Northern Ireland outside the EU customs union.

Although Arlene Foster personally vowed that her “one red line” was to prevent a customs or regulatory border in the Irish Sea, the party has insisted that it has not done a U-turn.

Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph that she expected that Stormont’s role in approving regulatory divergence from GB would be exercised at Westminster “through a mechanism such as a grand committee of Northern Ireland MPs” if there was no devolution.

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That would mean that on present numbers the DUP would have 10 of the 11 votes on the committee.

Mrs Foster also complained about how “my own [media] in Northern Ireland” had reported the DUP’s new stance on an Irish Sea regulatory border. Mrs Foster said the coverage was “ridiculous”.

Referring to “Arlene ‘two borders’ Foster”, UUP chairman Lord Empey said that the DUP’s plan would exclude Northern Ireland from one of the benefits of Brexit – new trade deals “as we will remain in and governed by the rules of the EU single market and ruled by the EU Courts, another red line that the DUP has broken”.

He added: “The long-term effects of these proposals will be to align the Northern Ireland economy to the Dublin economy and we will diverge over time from the GB economy. Where, from a unionist perspective, does that lead us?”

However, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson accused his former party colleague of “bitterness” and said the DUP had worked with Boris Johnson to secure “a reasonable offer”.

He said: “The reaction in Dublin in itself undermines Lord Empey’s scaremongering and defeatism. This deal removes the threat of the backstop and fully respects our constitutional position within the UK.”

He said that the whole UK would leave the single market and “any subsequent regulatory alignment with EU rules can only apply to goods such as agri-food because that is what our farmers and businesses have asked for”.

However, former DUP MEP Jim Allister said the DUP had “surrendered on a principle central to our sovereignty” because the prime minister had made clear that all Northern Ireland goods would be subject to EU rules.

The TUV leader said: “To think that the DUP has signed up to such is staggering. Not just does it breach their blood red line, but it sets us up for economic unity with the Republic and increasing divergence from GB.”