Why the DUP should worry Theresa May more than the European Research Group

The leader of Northern Ireland’s biggest party on Tuesday ruled out any checks on trade with the British mainland after the EU’s Brexit negotiator tried to persuade her that such controls could be “de-dramatised”.
Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster holds a news conference at the European Parliament after a meeting with EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
Arlene Foster, whose Democratic Unionist Party props up Prime Minister Theresa May’s government in London, said the DUP would never accept the regulatory or customs controls that the EU’s Michel Barnier says are an essential “backstop” to avoid a hard land border with EU member Ireland after Britain leaves.
“There is only one red line,” Foster told reporters after her meeting with Barnier in Brussels, as he presses to secure a deal on the Irish border issue that can unlock a withdrawal accord with London in time for a summit next Wednesday.
“We could not support any arrangement which could give rise to either customs or regulatory barriers within the UK internal market,” Foster said, adding that she looked forward to further meetings in Brussels over the coming two days.
Barnier tweeted after their meeting that he was “working hard to explain and de-dramatise the backstop” — a text by which the EU proposes keeping Northern Ireland inside the EU economic space in the event that a future EU-UK free trade deal fails to find a way to avoid disruptive checks on their land frontier.
EU negotiators have floated ideas about making customs and regulatory checks on goods by discreet technical means well away from sea transit routes between Britain’s mainland and its Irish province to try to overcome objections from Foster — and May — that such differences undermine the United Kingdom’s integrity.
Asked about that push to “de-dramatise” checks if the backstop were triggered, Foster said: “The whole point of checks is there’s a difference. Why would we need checks ... if we were an integral part of the single market of the United Kingdom?”
She said she had yet to see new proposals that May plans to put to Barnier in a bid to address the problem.
Pressed on whether the DUP was prepared to block a Brexit deal and so pitch Britain into a “no-deal” scenario next March, Foster said she believed her party was not alone in its view, and that she expected May to respect its position. The head of the Northern Irish party that props up Prime Minister Theresa May’s government said on Tuesday a Brexit deal was “eminently possible” within weeks, but she would not accept different regulations from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, walks through the venue of the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, Britain, October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
In an interview before a meeting with chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Foster stuck to her rejection of any new regulatory or customs barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland - but said with political will, a deal was possible.
“We cannot have the single market of the United Kingdom interfered with in that way and that is the message we will be giving to Michel Barnier today. There cannot be any regulatory barriers between ourselves and the rest of the United Kingdom,” she said.
“I want to see a deal that works for everyone and I think that is eminently possible if the political will is there to make it happen,” Foster told BBC Radio Ulster.
The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is the biggest remaining sticking point in Brexit talks between Britain and the European Union, and both sides are trying to work out how to monitor and regulate trade over the frontier.
EU sources told Reuters on Thursday that EU negotiators see the outline of a compromise on the Irish border issue, raising hopes that a new British offer could unlock a deal.