In a major blow to Boris Johnson, DUP’s Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds have rejected the current draft Brexit agreement.
They issued a statement saying that they “could not support” the current deal, further raising doubts that it will be possible for the UK to leave the EU on October 31.
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EU leaders were prepared to give the green light to the draft Brexit agreement today – but Boris Johnson was under pressure to prove he had the necessary support in London before signing off on the deal.
Following signals yesterday, the DUP have now said they still have concerns about the current legal text.
They said they cannot accept the EU VAT proposals for Northern Ireland. They are also digging in over the prospect of a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, as well as the issues of consent regarding the suspended Stormont Assembly.
Releasing a statement on Twitter this morning, DUP leader Arlene Foster wrote that they “could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues” and that there is a “lack of clarity on VAT”, adding that the party will continue to work with the Government to try to get a “sensible” Brexit deal.
Under the so-called Benn Act, which seeks to prevent a no-deal Brexit, the UK government will be forced to seek a delay beyond October 31 unless a divorce deal is approved or Parliament agrees to leaving the EU without one by October 19.
If no agreement is met, which is likely to be the case now, Prime Minister Boris Johnson would have to send a letter to the president of the European Council requesting an extension to Article 50 until January 31.
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This is in conflict with Boris Johnson’s previous statements, saying he would rather “die in a ditch” than ask for a Brexit extension.
With fears that there is now insufficient time for a legal text to be hammered out in time, a compromise could see EU leaders back a political agreement and a second summit scheduled.
Mr Johnson had been in close and continued contact with DUP as he tried to shore up their support ahead of Saturday’s key deadline to prevent a delay to Brexit.
The party is seen as having significant influence over the stance of hardline Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) and hence are crucial in getting any deal approved by MPs.
But, ahead of the DUP’s damaging statement, ERG chairman and self-styled “Brexit hardman” Steve Baker signalled that his group could give its backing.
“We know there will be compromises, but we will be looking at this deal in minute detail, with a view to supporting it,” he told Sky News after a Downing Street meeting.
“But until we get that text, we can’t say.”
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This morning, the DUP have refused to do radio interviews as they say they are still working to try and get a Brexit deal.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the UK prime minister will travel to Brussels today for one of the most crucial EU summits in recent history.
The Irish Independent understands the deal as currently constructed allows for the Northern Ireland Assembly to vote on continuing the region’s ‘special relationship’ with the EU after four years.
October 31 is the date on which Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union – with or without a deal – unless an extension is agreed by the EU.
Additional reporting: PA
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