British Prime Minister Theresa May scrambled today to salvage a deal over the post-Brexit border in Ireland after it was rejected by her DUP allies, exposing the weakness of her position in EU negotiations.
May was expected to hold talks with Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which keeps her Conservative minority government in office, after it blocked agreement on a major issue holding up Brexit talks.
Sources said Britain had agreed to keep EU trade rules for British-controlled Northern Ireland, even if the country as a whole withdrew from the European single market and customs union.
This followed a demand from Dublin for guarantees that Brexit would not lead to the return of frontier checks, amid fears of inflaming sectarian tensions in a region plagued by violence in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
But as May sought to close the deal over lunch with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Monday, the DUP made clear that any special deal for Northern Ireland was unacceptable.
“As I understand it, the DUP were spoken to about the proposal but the precise wording it seems was not made clear,” former British Brexit minister David Jones told BBC radio today morning. “Clearly the prime minister has got a lot of talking to do with (DUP leader) Arlene Foster today.”
Ireland said it would not change the text agreed with the EU and London, but European affairs minister Helen McEntee told the state broadcaster RTE that “further clarification was needed”.
May met her cabinet on Tuesday morning, and British Finance Minister Philip Hammond said the government was still “very confident” of reaching a deal. He said that May would return to Brussels later this week for fresh