Arlene Foster has said she wants a “sensible” Brexit deal which works for Northern Ireland and the Republic, and called for “cool heads” as negotiations enter a crucial stage.
The DUP leader was speaking in Dublin yesterday as she held discussions with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, with this week’s European Council summit looming.
But Mrs Foster stressed that she would oppose any proposal which leads to Northern Ireland “slavishly following EU rules whilst all the time diverging away from the rest of the United Kingdom”.
She said it was not just unionists in NI who were determined to fend off the EU’s mooted backstop plan, highlighting Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson’s opposition to any move that would place a border in the Irish Sea.
Mrs Foster’s comments came as Theresa May insisted that a Brexit deal is still “achievable”, despite deadlock in negotiations over the thorny issue of the backstop.
But hours after the prime minister’s statement to the Commons, European Council President Donald Tusk warned that the UK is “more likely than ever before” to crash out of the EU without a deal.
While he felt there was good will on both sides, Mr Tusk said the negotiations have been more complicated than expected.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds called on Mrs May to hold to her pledge that NI will not be “carved off” from the rest of the UK by a customs or regulatory border post-Brexit.
The PM vowed that the UK would leave the EU together, but said a deal which allowed NI to export freely to both Great Britain and the EU would be beneficial to business.
Meanwhile, Leave campaigner Nigel Farage said the issue of the NI border has been used by Brussels chief negotiator Michel Barnier to “trap” the PM into keeping the UK in a customs union.