Arlene Foster: Ireland pushing border agenda

Brexit talks remain in deadlock as DUP leader Arlene Foster said the Government has been pushing an “aggressive agenda” on the border issue.

With the negotiating clock ticking down, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hit out at Ms Foster’s party, claiming in the Dáil that most people in the North would back the deal rejected by the DUP.

UK prime minister Theresa May now faces intense pressure to formulate a solution before the end of the week with Dublin and Belfast placing the responsibility firmly on her shoulders.

Mr Varadkar said there is still time to piece a deal back together before a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels next week, but said that the “ball is very much in London’s court”.

An optimistic note was sounded by the Taoiseach’s spokesman last night who suggested it would “not be unreasonable” to change the wording of the agreement provided it did “not undermine” what had been achieved by the Irish side.

However, there was little give from Ms Foster, who blamed Mr Varadkar for withholding the text of the agreement, which, when seen by the DUP on Monday resulted in a phone call to Ms May and the eventual stalling of the deal.

“We were told that the Irish government prevented it coming to us and we have to take that at face value,” said Ms Foster. “The text only came through to us late [Monday] morning. Once we saw the text we knew that it wasn’t going to be acceptable.

“We had made it clear right throughout that our red line, and it’s the one thing that we have consistently talked about that we couldn’t have a situation where Northern Ireland was different from the rest of the UK. That is something that obviously came as a big shock when we looked at the wording.”

However, the Government last night strongly denied claims that they were responsible for keeping unionists in the dark on the special Brexit deal.

In a statement clearly laying the blame back on Downing Street, the Government said it rejected Ms Foster’s claim and said it had “no role whatsoever in the negotiations conducted by the British government”.

A Government statement said it “had no involvement in any decision on which documents should go to the DUP”.

In the Dáil the Taoiseach said he believed the majority of people living in the North would favour the deal rejected by the DUP, adding that no agreement could involve one political party to the exclusion of others.

“I believe, and this is the most important thing, that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, if they were so asked, would like to have this agreement,” said Mr Varadkar.

“We will recognise the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, and the majority of constituencies in Northern Ireland, did not vote to leave the European Union.

“Perhaps if the Northern Ireland Assembly was meeting today it might even pass a resolution in favour of what was agreed, as a majority of the people elected to that Assembly wanted to remain and the majority of the parties, including the Alliance Party, the Green Party, the SDLP and others, want to stay in the internal market and the customs union but, unfortunately, we have to deal with the situation as we find it.”

Mr Varadkar already said this week that a final deal could be done in January or even February. Another meeting in Brussels between Ms May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is expected either today or over the next few days.

“The priority is to give plenty of time to resolve this,” a spokesman said.

The negotiating deadlock was yesterday described as a “car crash” by a former Northern Ireland secretary in the Lords. Labour’s Peter Hain suggestion was to apply that alignment across the UK “then the problem is solved”.

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