Trade

Mays Northern Irish backers torpedo Brexit offer

BIRMINGHAM, England — Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster sought to head off any new U.K. Brexit offer to the EU that might include new checks on trade — of any kind — between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

Prime Minister Theresa May told BBC Radio 4s Today program Tuesday that the U.K. would soon make a renewed offer to the EU on the backstop proposal for avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The DUP, an ultra-conservative Northern Irish party, has 10 MPs in the U.K. parliament who prop up the Conservatives majority, so their support for any Brexit deal that May strikes with Brussels is critical.

The new offer is expected to include a U.K. concession that Northern Ireland could remain under EU regulations for certain areas such as agriculture and food and an acceptance that additional regulatory checks — although not customs checks — will be required on some trade moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

However, Foster — speaking to Bloomberg at the Conservative Partys annual conference in Birmingham — specifically ruled out DUP backing for “either a customs border down the Irish Sea or a regulatory border.”

The DUP leader challenged May to stand by her unionist principles and not distance Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K.

“The prime minister has been very clear she is a unionist, she believes in the union of the four countries of the United Kingdom and therefore there can be no borders whether of a regulatory nature or of a customs nature either,” she said.

DUP objections nearly torpedoed progress in the Brexit talks at a previous crunch moment before Decembers “Joint Agreement” that committed both sides to the so-called backstop — a guarantee that whatever deal the U.K. and EU agreed, no hard border would be erected between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

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