Ireland ‘did not sideline unionists’

The Government has rejected claims that it was responsible for keeping unionists in the dark on a special Brexit deal to prevent a hard border.

DUP leader Arlene Foster hit out at Dublin, citing an “aggressive” Irish stance in the latest Brexit standoff. She claimed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Government was responsible for withholding the deal.

The Cabinet also discussed the impasse, as efforts continue to cobble together a pact ahead of an EU summit.

There are questions on whether the whole deal is now salvageable. It had all been but agreed on Monday between the EU and Britain that the North’s and the Republic’s regulations would be aligned.

However, the DUP torpedoed the deal to avoid a hard border, despite agreement by the Tories and British prime minister Theresa May in London.

Yesterday, Ms Foster claimed the Government had stopped London showing her and the DUP the text of the deal.

She reiterated there could be no border between the constituent parts of the UK, a scenario that could arise if the North gets a special status but trading across the Irish Sea does not.

She said: “The Irish Government wouldn’t allow them [Brexit negotiators] to show the text. Once we saw the text, we knew that it would not fly.”

This argument was denied by the Government. In a statement, the Government said it rejected Ms Foster’s claim and said it had “no role whatsoever in the negotiations conducted by the British government”.

It said it “had no involvement in any decision on which documents should go to the DUP”. A spokesman later said Mr Varadkar would likely raise the issue with Ms May.

Ms Foster said the DUP wanted to look at the text, make it clear what it cannot agree with, and try to work through to phase two of talks.  

The Government is now waiting for movement from Ms May, with the Taoiseach clearly saying yesterday that the “ball was in their court”.

Irish ministers privately told the Irish Examiner that scheduled meetings in Brussels this week, including a meeting of commissioners today, will go ahead even if there is no Brexit update.

Senior sources are willing to accept that any resolution on the ‘soft’ border option may be delayed until later this week or next, if needs be.

Mr Varadkar said 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 in the next few days.

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

Mr Varadkar will today discuss the latest Brexit impasse with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, who visits Dublin.

Mr Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney updated the Cabinet on Brexit yesterday.

A Government spokesman said it would “not be unreasonable” to amend the text of the Brexit phase one deal as long as it did “not undermine” what had been achieved by the Irish side. When pushed, the spokesman said there was a “possibility” this could include new language concerning the UK.

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