Theresa May was so confident of a deal being done yesterday on the Irish border question that she had reserved, we reported this morning, several hours of time in the Commons today to sell it to MPs. But her plans were blown off course, with the Government instead having to answer an urgent question about what has been going on. The DUP made clear they would not tolerate Northern Ireland being obliged to seek “continued alignment” with EU standards while the rest of the United Kingdom goes its own way, and the implications of the plan sparked disquiet among Unionists, like Ruth Davidson. Ministers have sought to defuse tensions by making clear any terms agreed would extend across the UK.
Northern Ireland, David Davis told the Commons today, would not be “left behind” in the EU’s single market and customs union after Brexit. This clarification shows, I suggested this morning, that the Government is starting to be more forthcoming on the detail about their Brexit plan. Mrs May said in her Florence speech that “there will be areas where we want to achieve the same goals in the same ways”. The knowledge that these areas would span across the UK has gone some way to mollifying the DUP, with its Westminster leader Nigel Dodds acknowledging the need for “regulatory alignment”. Unionists are jubilant, with Jacob Rees-Mogg inviting the Government to thank the DUP for helping it “stick to its own policy”. That said, Belfast academic Colin Harvey argues that the proposed solution was not going to put the Union under any real threat. The Brexit Secretary avoided Mr Rees-Mogg’s request to say that his “red line” was to free the UK to diverge from EU standards, insisting that “the red line for me is delivering the best Brexit for Britain”.
The DUP may sound more positive about the Government’s way of answering the Irish border question, but it doesn’t mean they are completely satisfied. Christopher Hope reports that DUP insiders feel they are “far away” from agreeing a deal, with Mr Dodds set to meet the chief whip Julian Smith to talk about potential terms. Their leader, Arlene Foster, is not flying to London today, but will do so “when they are close to agreeing something”. If Mrs May can’t agree a deal with the DUP promptly, she will find it hard to present a better offer to the EU when she flies back to Brussels (currently penciled in tomorrow). If she has enough to help her make progress, the Europeans have indicated that they would have time to prepare new guidelines that could mean talks finally progress to phase 2 – trade – later in the month. Jean-Claude Juncker has said he’ll meet Mrs May “this week”, and declared himself “very confident” that both sides will make sufficient progress. The chances of that happening may now rest with the DUP.
via The Telegraph