Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster has dismissed claims Northern Ireland will leave the EU under a different arrangement to the UK as “speculation”.
A draft report seen by RTE News suggests that the UK could be about to concede to EU negotiators that the EU single market and customs union will continue to apply to Northern Ireland after Brexit.
The Irish broadcaster credits “two well-placed sources”.
Foster’s party previously warned it would reconsider its part in its confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative Party.
The deal secured Theresa May’s position as Prime Minster after the General Election in June.
Foster hit out at the Republic of Ireland’s government’s role in negotiations.
She said: “The Republic of Ireland claim to be guarantors of the Belfast Agreement but they are clearly seeking to unilaterally change the Belfast Agreement without our input or consent.”
‘There will be no border in the Irish Sea’
Foster said: “We note the speculation emanating from the European Union exit talks regarding the Republic of Ireland and United Kingdom border.
We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom.
“We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom.
“The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way.
‘A sensible Brexit’
“Her Majesty’s government understands the DUP position. The Prime Minister has told the House of Commons that there will be no border in the Irish Sea.
“The Prime Minister has been clear that the UK is leaving the European Union as a whole and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected.
“We want to see a sensible Brexit where the Common Travel Area is continued, we meet our financial obligations, have a strictly time-limited implementation period and where the contribution of EU migrants to our economy is recognised in a practical manner.”
If true, the concession will have major impacts on Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector, which could potentially remain bound under EU legislation.
It would negate the need for any hard border on the island, but would cross the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) whose confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative Party is keeping British Prime Minister Theresa May in power.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council seemed to be in good form.
He wrote online that talks were “getting closer” to sufficient progress.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) December 4, 2017
The issue of the Irish border is particularly pressing; earlier this week Donald Tusk president of the European Council declared that Ireland would have the final say on any Brexit deal – effectively giving the South a veto over negotiations.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadker has said the UK must “give guarantee” there would be no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland before negotiations can move on.
However, conversely, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs warned a separate deal keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union could see the DUP withdraw from its confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative Party.