Brexit: has the DUP unlocked the backstop conundrum?

Unionist party has reportedly agreed to shift its red lines on border control

Arlene Foster
Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster speaking at a press conference in Stormont
(Image credit: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images)

Arlene Foster has played down reports that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has agreed to shift its red lines in what could be a highly significant twist in the Brexit saga.

According to The Times, the party has handed Boris Johnson a “lifeline” by privately agreeing to accept Northern Ireland abiding by some European Union regulations after Brexit in a deal to replace the Irish backstop.

The unionist party reported also said it would drop its objection to regulatory checks in the Irish Sea.

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In return, it says, the EU would have to drop its insistence that Northern Ireland remain in a customs union, instead agreeing “alternative arrangements” to avoid physical infrastructure at the border.

A government source told the newspaper that the “significant” development could pave the way for a potential compromise with Brussels. However, the source added that a deal was still “a long way off’’.

However, publicly at least, Foster is sticking to her previous position. “We are keen to see a sensible deal but not one that divides the internal market of the UK,” she tweeted last night. “We will not support arrangements that create a barrier to east-west trade.”

In an obvious jab at The Times, she added: “Anonymous sources lead to nonsense stories.”

When the DUP vetoed Theresa May’s plan for the Northern Ireland-only backstop in 2017, its leader, Arlene Foster, said: “We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the UK.”

The reportedly softened position was discussed on Monday when Johnson met Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister.

There is renewed optimism that a deal could be agreed, avoiding a hard Brexit. Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, said that a deal by 31 October was now “more likely than I had thought”.

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