DUP accuses May of 'plan for border in the Irish Sea'

Theresa May the Prime Minister

Theresa May the Prime Minister

According to The Times, the DUP have taken Mrs May's words to mean a Northern Ireland-only backstop arrangement will still be included in the legal text of the UK's divorce deal with the European Union, despite her assurance she will not allow it to "come into force".

Why has the letter annoyed the DUP?

This is to ensure no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The PM's five-page letter, leaked to The Times, was sent on Tuesday to Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, and Nigel Dodds, her deputy.

The leak of the letter is seen by some observers, as well as the DUP, as part of a laying of the ground by May for a showdown with the party over checks in British ports or factories in Northern Ireland or Britain.

"That is why it is critical that the provision for a UK-EU joint customs territory is legally binding in the Withdrawal Agreement itself, so that no "backstop to a backstop" is required".

A letter from the Prime Minister has been interpreted by DUP leader Arlene Foster to mean that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Northern Ireland would be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom by a customs border in the Irish Sea.

The letter adds that the constructive engagement strategy of the United Kingdom government's negotiators has not always been reciprocated by the EU. "This is now a time for clarity and plain speaking", the letter states.

The EU is adamant that there can not be a time limit - any backstop must apply "unless and until" it is no longer needed.

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The European Union's fallback proposal aimed at avoiding a hard border between Ireland and the United Kingdom would effectively keep Northern Ireland aligned with Brussels's customs union and single market.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's letter sets out her commitment, which she has been absolutely clear about on any number of occasions, to never accepting any circumstances in which the United Kingdom is divided into two customs territories".

The UK government has so far proposed a backstop - with an expected end date of 2021 - which would effectively keep the whole of the UK in the EU customs union for a limited period after Brexit. But she stresses that she would never allow a divide between Northern Ireland and Britain to "come into force".

Such an inclusion would create severe difficulties for the Mrs May with the DUP as well as with Brexiteers in her own party. "From her letter, it appears the PM is wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish Sea with NI in the EU SM regulatory regime".

A Downing Street spokesman told The Time last night: 'The prime minister's letter sets out her commitment, which she has been absolutely clear about on any number of occasions, to never accepting any circumstances in which the United Kingdom is divided into two customs territories.

The UK and the European Union both want to avoid a "hard border" - physical checks or infrastructure between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

A spokesman added that "the government will not agree anything that brings about a hard border on the island of Ireland".

Mr Lidington has been working with Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney in the final stages of Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and EU.

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