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DUP would consider 'time-limited backstop' amid last-ditch attempt to get Brexit deal

Arlene Foster has insisted there remains a chance of reaching a deal before 31 October.

DUP leader Arlene Foster pictured in Dublin earlier this month.
DUP leader Arlene Foster pictured in Dublin earlier this month.
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

DUP LEADER ARLENE Foster has said her party would “look at” a time-limited backstop – as she insisted there remains a chance of reaching a deal before 31 October.

The proposal would put a deadline on the backstop arrangement required by the European Union to avoid a hard border in Ireland – something that has previously been rejected by the Irish government.

Foster made the comments while speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester yesterday.

“In terms of the time-limited backstop, can I remind you what Leo Varadkar thinks of the time-limited backstop – he says it is not a backstop at all. And so in terms of the time-limited backstop we have said in the past it is something we would look at.

“I don’t think it is something that Leo Varadkar would look at, but certainly if a time-limited backstop was on offer it is something that we would look at, but I don’t believe it is at this present moment in time,” Foster said. 

She described the backstop proposal as “anti-democratic”, but said she believed a “way forward” existed – claiming it was possible to find a deal “even at this late stage”.

“I firmly believe that there is a way forward,” Foster said, adding that if the EU and the Irish government “care about protecting” the Good Friday Agreement “they need to acknowledge that the backstop will not do it for Northern Ireland”.

Foster, whose party props up Boris Johnson’s minority government, later added: “I think even at this late stage we can find a deal that is acceptable to the House of Commons and is acceptable to Europe.”

Customs arrangements 

However, Foster remained adamant that Northern Ireland had to leave the EU “on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom” in relation to customs arrangements.

“We cannot have internal customs borders within the United Kingdom … it has constitutional implications as well as economic implications.

Actually when you think of the amount of trade we do east-west and west-east it completely blows out of the water the north-south trade.

“I’m not saying the north-south trade is not important – it is of course important – but our east-west trade is much more important,” Foster said.

‘Time is running out’ 

Speaking on Friday after a meeting with chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels, Tánaiste Simon Coveney warned that “time is running out” to reach a Brexit deal.

“There are still significant gaps between both sides,” Coveney said.

“The clear message that I would have got from Michel Barnier today is that his team and he himself are available 24/7 to negotiate towards trying to get a deal done.

But that has to be on the basis of a serious proposal coming forward from the UK side. That hasn’t happened yet. And until there is a serious proposal in writing that can be the basis for negotiation then the gaps that are wide at the moment will remain.

“Time is running out. We need to move this process on but, really, the onus is on the British Prime Minister and his team to allow that to happen by putting serious proposals on the table that the EU can negotiate around to try and find a way of getting a deal done here.”

On 20 September, the UK Brexit minister Stephen Barclay met with Barnier and submitted three papers with ideas on replacing the backstop.

“There is significant work still to do but there are serious discussions that are taking place,” Barclay said after those talks. However, the Irish government and the EU have been less optimistic about progress towards securing a deal.

Coveney on Friday repeated that any solution put forward by the UK government must “must avoid a hard border, fully protect the Good Friday Agreement and north-south cooperation, and preserve the all-island economy”.

“To date there is nothing else on the table that achieves the same outcome as the backstop,” he added. 

Contains reporting from Press Association and Dominic McGrath 

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Órla Ryan

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