A senior DUP figure has warned that the Irish government’s attempt to “cut unionists out” of the Brexit negotiations goes against one of the key tenets of the Belfast Agreement.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was speaking after the Irish Republic’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney, expressed concern about the implications of the UK government’s supply and confidence deal with the DUP.
On Friday, DUP leader Arlene Foster vowed that her party would block any attempt in the Assembly “to undermine the economic or constitutional integrity of the UK”, including a regulatory or customs border in the Irish Sea.
In response, Mr Coveney said no party should have a veto over the future of the Irish border after the UK leaves the European Union.
Hitting back at Mr Coveney’s comments, Lagan Valley MP Mr Donaldson said Dublin “must respect” the concerns of unionists.
He told the News Letter: “Simon Coveney says DUP concerns should be ignored by the UK government regarding Brexit and a border in the Irish Sea. This has echoes of 1985 when Dublin persuaded Margaret Thatcher to cut unionists out of negotiations on the Anglo-Irish Agreement which created enormous political problems and greater polarisation.
“Dublin talk about the need to preserve the Belfast Agreement. Cutting unionists out contravenes the principle of inclusion and would be as wrong as any attempt to exclude nationalists.
“The Irish government needs to respect the concerns of unionists, not ignore them.”
Mr Coveney also expressed concern the so-called backstop “has turned into a green versus orange issue”, adding it is important to turn attention to the practicalities of trade and movement of goods and people.
But DUP East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said: “Mr Coveney is right that it has in some ways been turned into an orange and green issue, but part of the reason for that is because of his government’s attitude.
“It is not unionists who have been belligerent in terms of lecturing the UK government about what it should and shouldn’t do in relation to its negotiations with the EU.”