Moment of truth approaches for the DUP deal as May prepares to reveal her latest plan for the border

This morning on the Today programme, Theresa May stalled when pressed on when she would have her detailed plans for the backstop ready. But she will have to say more when she meets the DUP this afternoon. This suggests she may unveil it in her leader’s speech tomorrow morning – unless once again, the DUP stop her.

Q: Will you compromise on the Irish backstop?

May says she hopes to get a backstop that never needs to be used.

Her Chequers plan would ensure that there was no hard border in Ireland, and hence no need for the backstop.

Q: Would you consider light-touch regulatory changes on goods crossing the Irish Sea?

May says she thinks a solution can be found that preserves the integrity of the UK.

The government will bring forward proposals in due course, she says.

The Times think they know what they are  – as Slugger has reported several times.

Theresa May is preparing to limit Britain’s ability to strike free-trade deals after Brexit in a significant concession to the European Union aimed at breaking the deadlock in negotiations.

The prime minister is ready to propose a “grand bargain”, according to her colleagues, which would keep Britain tied to European customs rules on goods after the transition period ends in December 2020.

No 10 will claim that the UK has left the customs union at this point, but by keeping key rules the ability to agree trade deals would be curtailed for many years. Britain would also accept demands that goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain must meet European standards, with the potential for checks in the Irish Sea.

The concession is likely to enrage Brexiteers, who will claim that it amounts to staying in a partial customs union indefinitely, severely limiting the scope to sign trade deals with countries such as America, Australia and New Zealand that want access to Britain’s agricultural markets.

Under the government proposals the arrangement would end only when a mutually acceptable technological solution to the Irish border issue was found. This could mean that goods entering Northern Ireland would be electronically tracked to their end destination, avoiding border checks and enabling the correct duty to be paid.

Critically, Britain is expected to accept that this cannot be time-limited and will be implemented only with the agreement of both sides. A government spokesman insisted that any such arrangement would be “temporary”.

One senior minister said that Downing Street believed it could command a majority in parliament if it unlocked the talks and brought about a withdrawal agreement and clear statement on a future relationship. “We need to have a conversation about customs,” they said. “We have to move to unlock the talks and that is going to mean compromising on signing comprehensive free-trade deals immediately.

The move would mean Britain agreeing to maintain EU tariffs on goods and to remain part of the common commercial policy. Downing Street published proposals over the summer for a temporary customs arrangement with the EU that would keep Britain tied to customs rules as part of the backstop. Unlike the new proposals it suggested the plan would be “time- limited”.

Any plans will need to gain the support and consent of the DUP. Last night a DUP source said the party would oppose the idea of British goods facing checks at a notional border.

The EU has already rejected  a time-limited  transition period when the whole UK  remains within the customs union. Will the UK  staying aligned with it  for an indefinite period be more acceptable to both the EU and the Commons?

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson who is often lined up to amplify DUP positions, was  at it again this morning.

If people stopped being so pessimistic and put half as much effort into entering a trade agreement between the UK and the EU “then we would all be better off,” he told RTE’s Morning Ireland.

Responding to Mrs Foster’s remarks saying she could work with Boris Johnson if he became UK prime minister, Mr Donaldson said that she had simply said there was “a lot of solidity in what he said,” but that did not necessarily mean she supports him.

It all depends on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, if there is a no deal scenario, then there will have to be a change in how north/south institutions operate, he said.

“We want a deal to ensure there is no hard border between Northern Irelandand the Republic and between the UK and Europe.

He also said that he wants to see the Good Friday Agreement continue. Arlene Foster had been reflecting the reality of what could happen in a ‘no deal’ scenario.

“We would be deluding ourselves if we think that (no deal) would not change the way we do business.”

He gave the example of the single market for the island of Ireland. If there is a no deal outcome then that will have implications and adjustments will have to be made.

“We don’t want that to be the outcome, but there has to be a dose of reality.

“If we get a ‘no deal’ outcome that alters how we do business. The challenge is to avoid a ‘no deal’ outcome. That’s what we need to work towards.”

In response to a Times of London report that Theresa May will put forward new proposals on the backstop which would involve the UK remaining tied to the EU’s customs rule book beyond the two-year transition, and until a mutually acceptable technological solution on the Irish Border could be found, Mr Donaldson said that such a proposal had not been put to the DUP.

“It is a speech from one paper. We are meeting the Prime Minister this afternoon, let’s see what she has to say today. But it’s not just a matter for the Prime Minister, it is for the EU and the Irish government too.”



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