Efforts are mounting to drive a wedge between Theresa May and the DUP over the backstop

The Guardian has been the only media I can find claiming a British ploy to get round the backstop in these terms. 

Senior diplomats involved in the negotiations have reacted furiously to the details of a fresh UK proposal for avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, briefed to the Irish PM, Leo Varadkar, at last week’s Salzburg summit.

Under the solution, May will agree to Northern Ireland potentially staying, in effect, in the single market, as the rest of the UK exits after the transition period, should there be no other way to avoid a hard border at the time.

However, crucially, the UK is insisting that the Northern Ireland assembly, known as Stormont, would have to vote in support of this move before it came into force.

Stormont has not sat for 20 months due to the refusal of the DUP and Sinn Féin to work together. The assembly had a unionist majority from its establishment until the general election of 2017.

EU officials said the British government was seeking simply to push the issue into the future, leaving the backstop solution as an “empty shell”.

The language of the report suggests that the reporter, an EU correspondent, isn’t entirely familiar with how the Assembly works (worked).

Everyone else reported Varadkar’s frustration  when she told him she might not have the UK’s detailed  proposals for the border ready in time for the next EU summit in three weeks’ time. And this helped provoked the EU leaders’ slapdown  that so offended her.

In her Rule Britannia camera statement on Friday May appeared to state something quite different from the Guardian report:

We both (UK and EU) agree that the Withdrawal Agreement needs to include a backstop to ensure that if there’s a delay in implementing our new relationship, there still won’t be a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

But the EU is proposing to achieve this by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the Customs Union.

As I have already said, that is unacceptable. We will never agree to it. It would mean breaking up our country.

We will set out our alternative that preserves the integrity of the UK. And it will be in line with the commitments we made back in December – including the commitment that no new regulatory barriers should be created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK unless the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree.

This is not stating the Assembly has a veto on the backstop, much less the DUP alone. But If you’re feeling paranoid – and no doubt the DUP are, probably permanently -,  you might wonder why, having been so emphatic in rejecting “ no border down the Irish Sea” she bothered to slot in a little proviso  allowing the Assembly to accept “regulatory barriers” and change the backstop or incorporate some barriers into a final deal.  Was she after all suggesting that she would agree to the backstop if only the DUP would let her?  That would indeed be a DUP veto. So was she making a barely disguised plea to the DUP to ease up a bit on its comprehensive  ban on any inspections whatsoever between GB and NI?  She was saying a recovened Assembly could agree  to “regulatory barriers” and surely on a cross community vote.

Simon Coveney’s ears pricked up when he heard that and he sniped at the DUP’s deal with the government

   Simon Coveney also said getting a good deal for Ireland in the Brexit talks is being hampered by the actions of political parties.

Mr Coveney said that Ireland cannot allow one political party in Northern Ireland – the DUP – to veto proposals on the backstop agreement.

How he “cannot allow it” beats me. But more to the point, he’s encouraging the implication that May might allow checks away from the border if only the DUP would let her, And  the impression of opening  that door a chink is what’s causing the Irish government and EU negotiators  to  give it a push.

 

 

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London