Updated at 3.40pm
THE DUP HAS accused the Irish government of ‘flexing its muscles in a reckless and dangerous way’ in relation to Brexit.
Referencing the change of Taoiseach, the party’s leader in Westminster Nigel Dodds noted that there had been a shift in the ‘tone and aggression’ being seen from Dublin, claiming it has put Anglo-Irish relations at risk.
Speaking at a press conference in London this afternoon, the MP for Belfast North called for a ‘sensible Brexit’ where the UK leaves the European Union as one nation.
Dodds told reporters that his party did not see the proposed text of the agreement until ”very late yesterday morning” and that it “did not translate” with what they were told was in it. He described it as “unacceptable” to his party.
He claimed there was “far too much ambiguity” and that it did not ‘nail down what needed to be nailed down’.
He also told the gathered media that it is the EU causing the problems of the hard border – not the DUP or the British government.
He believes there are “sensible ways” to explore the issue of the border and said he does not want talks to fail.
Conceding that there are areas where regulatory alignment makes sense on the island of Ireland, Dodds cited the single electricity market. However, he repeated the line that his party will not accept general regulatory alignment.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil this afternoon that the government wants to move to phase two of the talks but said it must “stand firm” on its position that reassurances are needed on the border issue.
“The ball is in London’s court,” said Varadkar, adding that he is happy to give UK Prime Minister Theresa May more time.
“There is time to put this agreement back on track,” he said.
He said May is handling the “difficulties” on her end and the Irish government await to hear about the progress made.
Speaking about the DUP, Varadkar said:
“Having asked us for many months now to start engaging in options about avoiding a hard border… they’ve now decided they don’t want to have that conversation.”
He told the Dáil that Irish-British relations had been “strained” over recent years, pointing out that they were probably at their best during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Ireland.
Earlier, the Irish government defended yesterday’s deal which it saw as a way of preventing a hard border in Northern Ireland following Brexit, which was scuppered when the DUP said it would not support it.
For a few hours yesterday, it appeared that a long-awaited deal was in sight.
Those hopes were dashed, however, when the DUP said it would not support any such deal. The party said it would not accept any different treatment separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
That line has been repeated by the UK’s Brexit Minister David Davis today who said that no part of the UK will remain in the customs union.
The DUP’s hold
As the DUP is keeping the Conservatives in a House of Commons majority, this has put Theresa May in a very difficult position.
Irish government officials have since showed their frustration, and have defended the proposed deal. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday expressed his “surprise and disappointment”.
Though Theresa May is due to head back to Brussels tomorrow to try to finalise the agreement, DUP leader Arlene Foster will not be flying to London today to meet the British PM. There are plans for the pair to talk by phone.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said that Ireland recognised that there were “difficult political issues to manage for the British prime minister”.
“And we want to give the time and space to try to do that,” he said.
But we don’t want to give the impression that the Irish government is going to reverse away from the deal we felt we had in place and had agreement on yesterday.
Also speaking on Morning Ireland, Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee said that the proposed deal was not a “backdoor attempt to a united Ireland”.
“The document yesterday very much upheld the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.
She said that parts of the agreement could be further clarified for the DUP, but that the Irish position would not change.
“What we’re talking about is an alignment, we’re talking about upholding the Good Friday Agreement, we’re talking about ensuring that we can continue to have free movement of people and goods north and south,” she said.
McEntee said that she could not “speak for the DUP” around how they could accept such a deal.
She said the text of the deal was “comprehensive” and that it covered many issues in relation to Northern Ireland.
Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson, Stephen Donnelly said the substance of the deal agreed to yesterday is in interests of entire island. He said he hopes the DUP’s reaction yesterday was motivated by tone and not substance – but added that their position needs to be respected, as does their political identity.
He observed that a deal appeared to be done yesterday, however then the wording of the document was leaked to the media.
“That leak was not helpful yesterday… when the dust has settled we may need to look at how this happened… there may be more crunch points in the future,” he said, pointing out that up until that point there appeared to be an agreement on all sides.
Donnelly said his party’s meeting with the Taoiseach went well, but said the issue of whether the DUP had been squared off was not raised. It was only after their briefing did the problems appear to arise, he said.
He said the Irish government, and Fianna Fáil should be available to play any role necessary in terms of getting the DUP on side. “Now is a time for cool heads and conciliatory language,” he said, adding that there should be no back-slapping about deals being done due the sensitivity of such an issue.
With such argumentative back-and-forth between the parties involved in recent weeks, a lot of people in Ireland feel that the whole Brexit process is damaging our relationship with Britain.
In a poll for RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live by Ámarach Research, over two-thirds of people (66%) said they felt that the Brexit process is negatively affecting our relationship with the UK.
Just under one fifth (19%) said they didn’t feel it was damaging Anglo-Irish relations, while 13% of people said that they didn’t know.
Time is now against Theresa May’s government with further talks set to take place between the UK and the EU at the end of next week. Without a deal on the Irish border, and other issues, talks may move on without a deal which increases the possibility of a return to a hard border in Northern Ireland.
WIth reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald, Sinéad O’Carroll and Christina Finn