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27th Mar 2023

Northern Ireland unionists warn May on border deal

  • The town of Belcoo in Northern Ireland is right next to the border with the Republic of Ireland. A hard border would affect residents on both sides (Photo: Caroline Johnston)

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has warned UK prime minister Theresa May not to give too many concessions to the Republic of Ireland on the border with Northern Ireland, or risk losing its support in parliament.

"If there is any hint that, in order to placate Dublin and the EU they're prepared to have Northern Ireland treated differently than the rest of the UK, then they can't rely on our vote," said DUP Sammy Wilson on Thursday (30 November).

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"They have to recognise that if this is about treating Northern Ireland different, or leaving us half in the EU, dragging along regulations which change in Dublin, it's not on," he added.

The border issue between Northern Ireland, which will leave the EU together with the rest of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland is one of the three main issues the EU and UK are focusing on in their Brexit talks.

The other two are the divorce bill and citizens' rights.

Monday (4 December) has been set as a deadline for the UK to make "sufficient progress" on these three issues, and European Council chief Donald Tusk will be in Dublin on Friday to discuss "how to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland".

But May's government will need support from the House of Commons for any Brexit deal.

Since she lost her majority in the snap elections earlier this year, her Conservative party is relying on support from the ten DUP MPs.

The ultra-conservative unionist DUP is one of the two main parties in the political landscape in Northern Ireland, the other one being the republican and nationalist party Sinn Fein, which wants Northern Ireland to rejoin the Republic of Ireland.

The UK government has set out a goal to create a 'frictionless' border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, but the DUP is afraid that Northern Ireland will somehow remain in the EU's customs union or even single market, while the rest of the UK will be out.

"There can be no arrangements agreed that compromise the integrity of the UK single market and place barriers, real or perceived, to the free movement of goods, services and capital between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom," emphasised DUP leader Arlene Foster on Thursday.

'Speculative' frictionless border

Other members of the House of Commons also have doubts about the feasibility of a soft border and said it was "not yet evident" how it would work.

"We do not currently see how it will be possible to reconcile there being no border with the government's policy of leaving the single market and the customs union, which will inevitably make the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland the EU's customs border with the UK," the Commons committee on exiting the European Union said in a report on Thursday.

The committee said the UK government's plans were "untested and to some extent speculative", and asked for more details how a 'frictionless' border would work in practice.

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