DUBLIN – A Northern Irish party that props up the United Kingdom’s national government on Monday said it would not accept any form of economic or political divergence from the rest of the UK as part of a Brexit deal with the European Union.
Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster was reacting to rumors from Brussels that conservative British Prime Minister Theresa May was close to striking a deal with the EU that would align Northern Ireland’s custom and trade regulations with the EU in order to ensure a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland – so-called regulatory alignment.
“We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom,” Foster said in a statement, insisting, however, that the common travel area currently applied to the UK-Irish border be maintained.
Agreement on how to manage the Irish border – the UK’s only land border with the EU – has been set as a prerequisite by Brussels in order to be able to move on to future trade discussions.
Foster denounced the Republic of Ireland’s influence in the border issues, claiming it sought to unilaterally change the Belfast Agreement without consulting Northern Ireland, despite both territories being guarantors of the peace deal that brought an end to the Northern Irish conflict and eventually dismantled the security checkpoints that once lined the border.
May traveled to the EU’s seat of power in Brussels for crunch talks with the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in what was widely seen as a last chance to secure consensus on the Irish border so that trade talks could begin should the remaining 27 members of the EU give it their backing at an upcoming council summit.
The PM’s minority Conservative government rely on the DUP’s votes in the lower parliamentary chamber, the House of Commons, but senior DUP officials have recently threatened to withdraw their support for the Tories should Northern Ireland be subject to a different status than the rest of the UK following Brexit.
Voters in Northern Ireland rejected Brexit during the referendum, although the DUP campaigned in favor of it.
Meanwhile, the region’s devolved parliament Stormont has been dormant since power-sharing talks between the pro-UK DUP and the Irish republican Sinn Féin collapsed.