17 October 2019 09:57
Image copyright Reuters Image caption The support of Arlene Foster's party, the DUP, is seen as crucial if Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to get his proposed Brexit deal through Parliament Boris Johnson has suffered a blow to his proposed Brexit deal as the Democratic Unionist Party said it cannot support plans "as things stand". The support of the Northern Irish party is seen as crucial if the PM is to win Parliament's approval for the deal in time for his 31 October deadline. The DUP said it would continue to work with the government to try to get a "sensible" deal. The UK government has yet to approve any legal text and the DUP remains unhappy about elements of the prime minister's revised plan for Northern Ireland. In a joint statement released on Thursday, the DUP's leader and deputy said discussions with the government were "ongoing", but "as things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT".
"We will continue to work with the government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom," Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds added. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said it was a "very sensitive moment in the negotiations", and while there was still a "possibility" of a deal, it required "more hard work and more pragmatism on all sides". Mr Johnson's proposals for a new Brexit deal hinge on getting rid of the controversial backstop - the solution to Irish border issues agreed by former PM Theresa May which proved unpalatable to many MPs. However, his plans would see Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK - something the DUP, among others, has great concerns about. In the past, a number of Tory Brexiteers have said their own support for a Brexit deal was contingent on the DUP's backing of any agreement. It's understood issues around securing the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont, to the new customs regime have become paramount.
That's why negotiators tried to address the concerns of the DUP - and the unionist community in general - in the new text of the agreement, with a promise that some goods crossing the Irish sea would be exempt from customs checks and by giving Stormont a choice about how Northern Ireland is treated in future. Mr Johnson faces another deadline on Saturday - the date set out in the so-called Benn Act, which was passed last month by MPs seeking to avoid a no-deal Brexit. If MPs have not approved a deal - or voted for leaving the EU without one - by Saturday, then Mr Johnson must send a letter to the EU requesting an extension to 31 January 2020 - something he has repeatedly refused to do. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve - who wants any new deal to be put back to the public to approve - said it was not "realistic" for the prime minister to expect Parliament to scrutinise and approve a legal text on Saturday - even if Mr Johnson does manage to finalise the plan with the EU. The pound fell sharply against the dollar and the euro within minutes of the Democratic Unionist Party leader saying she could not back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal "as it stands".
LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson's last-ditch attempt to clinch a Brexit deal was thrown into disarray just hours before a European Union summit on Thursday when the Northern Irish party he needs to help ratify any agreement refused to support it. Johnson had set his hopes on convincing EU leaders to agree a compromise deal at the summit, followed by a vote in the British parliament in an extraordinary session on Saturday, to pave the way for an orderly departure on Oct. 31. British and EU negotiators worked through several nights to agree a draft compromise on the Irish border issue, the most difficult part of Brexit, haggling over everything from customs checks to the thorny issue of consent. But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which supports Johnson's government, said it was not acceptable - a step that could spur hardline Brexiteers in his party to also vote against ratification unless he secures additional changes. "As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT," DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds said in a statement. "We will continue to work with the Government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom." A Brexit supporter who was the face of the campaign to leave in the 2016 EU referendum, Johnson has repeatedly said he will not ask for a delay though his government also says it will obey the law. Johnson, who has no majority in the 650-seat parliament, needs 320 votes to get a deal ratified. Johnson won the top job by pledging to renegotiate May's failed agreement, though he is largely recasting that deal with changes to the protocol on how to treat the border between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland. The DUP has been quick to make clear its grievances with Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. READ MORE: Blow for Boris Johnson as DUP says it cannot support current Brexit deal But DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy Nigel Dodds put out a joint statement laying out their concerns with the draft terms. The pair said: "As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues and there is a lack of clarity on VAT." The European Union and the Prime Minister moved towards each other on a customs arrangement for Northern Ireland. The EU, meanwhile, has agreed for Northern Ireland – in what would be a complex dual-tariff arrangement – to be allowed to officially remain in a customs territory with the UK, meaning the region can benefit from trade deals inked by the Government and any lower tariffs agreed by ministers. Mrs Foster had previously said: "There cannot be a border down the Irish Sea, a differential between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Conservative leader Mr Johnson often labelled his predecessor's backstop plans "undemocratic" and sought a mechanism to give Northern Ireland an opt-in or way out of his Withdrawal Agreement. The EU rejected plans to give the Stormont Assembly a veto every four years on the border deal but is said to have conceded to a unilateral exit arrangement, using a vote mechanism concocted by Assembly members. A rejection of the plans by the Assembly, which is currently suspended, would bring in a two-year cooling-off period in which a way of saving the Good Friday agreement would need to be found, according to The Times. The DUP fears that moves to bypass the petition of concern – a unique political tool that allows unionist or nationalist groups to reject reforms in Northern Ireland – could upset the balance of the once-warring communities. How concerned Mrs Foster is about staying with the UK's VAT rate is unclear, and whether she is using the disagreement to show there are issues being voiced by more than just her own party remains to be seen.