Arlene Foster and Leo Varadkar deadlocked over backstop

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Daniel McConnell

DUP leader Arlene Foster and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar have refused to give way on the crucial backstop standoff, despite growing pleas from London and Brussels to find a solution to the escalating crisis.

Ms Foster insisted she has no intention of backing down on her constitutional right to prevent the deal during a day-long visit to Dublin where she held talks with Mr Varadkar over his own insistence that the backstop must stand.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin before meeting Mr Varadkar last night, Ms Foster said she remains “very clear that the whole of the UK leaves the EU together and there aren’t any differences made between Northern Ireland”.

While saying it is “important we engage with each other because there is no point standing back and shouting at each other”, Ms Foster said that what Brussels and London are suggesting for Northern Ireland will simply not be allowed.

“It [the backstop plan] is not the best of both worlds and that is where the problem is. I know it is being sold in that fashion but of course it would create barriers between us and the rest of Great Britain,” said Ms Foster.

I think I have a very cool head indeed and I think she is absolutely right there has to be cool heads in what is a very febrile atmosphere.

“I know that the [British] prime minister [Theresa May] is a unionist. It is very important that she sticks by those instincts and delivers for the whole of the United Kingdom.”

Asked three times if she would clarify if she is willing to bring down the British government over her stance, Ms Foster repeatedly refused to say if she will or not do so, saying: “I do not enter into hypotheticals, what I want to see is a deal that works for everybody.”

However, in a clear warning to British prime minister Theresa May, who is dependent on the DUP’s support to remain in power, she added: “We want to see a Brexit that works for the whole of the United Kingdom and one that works in a way that does not create any barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

“Unionism is united on that issue, not just in Northern Ireland but actually, right across the United Kingdom. For me, that is the red line.”

At a separate media event yesterday morning, Mr Varadkar was similarly clear in his position, saying that while the EU is “always open to compromise” the reality is “there are some fundamentals we can’t compromise on”.

That [the fundamentals] is the need for the United Kingdom to honour its commitments made last December, which is that there will be a withdrawal agreement and, as part of that withdrawal agreement, there will be a legally binding assurance that, whatever happens, no hard border will happen on the island of Ireland,” said Mr Varadkar.

Ms Foster and Mr Varadkar’s comments came as European Council president Donald Tusk warned that a Brexit no-deal is now “more likely than ever before”.

While saying he remains hopeful and determined before this week’s crucial EU summit in Brussels, Mr Tusk said “at the same time, we must prepare the EU for a no-deal scenario”.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin agreed with the Taoiseach’s position.

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