Talk of Northern Ireland-only backstop off the mark – Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster has dismissed speculation about a Northern Ireland-only backstop and said she expects to meet Boris Johnson tonight.

The UK proposed a plan that would see Northern Ireland remain in the UK’s customs territory but operating the EU’s rules and procedures on tariffs.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said progress is being made in closed-door Brexit talks taking place between the EU and UK in Brussels.

Mr Varadkar told reporters it is “unclear” if a new deal will be struck by Tuesday night.

He said the gap remains “quite wide” between the EU and UK, particularly on the issue of customs arrangements on the island of Ireland.

Ms Foster said any Brexit deal must respect the economic and constitutional place of Northern Ireland within the UK and that speculation about the backstop is “far off the mark”.

“When I hear talk of the Northern Ireland backstop as I did in your headlines, I think the things are very far off the mark in terms of all of that,” she told RTÉ News.

“I think what is important to say is that we do want to get a deal but it has to be a deal that respects the constitutional and economic place of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and there has to be consent.

“There has to be consent which is in accordance with the Belfast agreement, in other words there has to be consent from the nationalist community and the Unionist community and so those things are very important,” she said.

When asked if she will be meeting Mr Johnson at Downing Street tonight, she said: “I’m sure we’ll be engaging with the Prime Minister this evening.”

When asked on BBC Northern Ireland’s Newsline if the DUP would support a border in the Irish sea, she said: “No, we must remain within the UK’s customs union. It is a principle we have and that will forever be there. We have to be integrally within the UK.”

“I think there’s been a huge amount of speculation since the Taoiseach met with Boris Johnson last Thursday. Some of it is so far off the mark, you can’t see the mark anymore to be quite honest with you,” she said.

“What is important is that we stick to our principles, we get a deal that respects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and that means all of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland included.”

Brexit Timeline

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

  • Tuesday, October 8: Tánaiste Simon Coveney meets the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels.
  • Thursday, October 10: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Boris Johnson hold a three hour private meeting in Cheshire, England. Afterwards, they release a rare joint statement saying there is a "pathway" to a deal.
  • Friday, October 11: Leaks confirm this "pathway" has been trodden on before, and has an uncanny resemblance to Mr Johnson's predecessor Theresa May's 2017 deal. Under the proposals, Northern Ireland would leave the EU with the UK but would continue implementing EU customs rules, creating an Irish sea EU border and preventing a hard Irish border. Stormont could also be given a "consent" vote.
  • Sunday, October 13: EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says the Northern Ireland plan may be unworkable. The DUP rejects the existing deal.
  • Monday, October 14: Intense EU-UK talks continue during the EU general affairs council and foreign affairs council in Luxembourg, with informed speculation indicating an emergency EU summit will be needed next week as a deal is unlikely this week.
  • Tuesday, October 15: Mr Coveney and Mr Barnier mirror the deadline concerns in the morning. However, by late afternoon, sources suggest a deal could be struck early on Wednesday.
  • Wednesday October 16: Mr Barnier will brief EU member state ambassadors on whether a deal can be agreed at this week's EU summit.
  • Thursday, October 17-Friday, October 18: EU leaders including Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson will attend the latest Brussels EU summit. If a deal is ready, they will consider signing off on it. If a deal is not ready, they will discuss a potential emergency EU summit and whether to allow a "technical extension" of a few days.
  • Saturday, October 19: Mr Johnson will attend a potential weekend House of Commons sitting to sign off on a deal. If he cannot produce a deal, he will be legally obliged to seek an extension to the October 31 Brexit deadline - provided he complies with British law.