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Arlene Foster warns Johnson of DUP 'influence' amid speculation of Brexit compromise

There have been renewed hopes that a deal can be reached after Leo Varadkar met Boris Johnson yesterday.

Arlene Foster and Boris Johnson during a meeting in July.
Arlene Foster and Boris Johnson during a meeting in July.
Image: Niall Carson/PA

DUP LEADER ARLENE Foster has told Boris Johnson that her party will be crucial to his hopes of passing a deal through parliament, as speculation grows that the UK prime minister is preparing to make concessions to secure a deal with the EU.

Following a meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Johnson yesterday, hopes have increased that a deal might be possible between the UK and the EU. Following the meeting, both leaders declared they could “see a pathway” to a possible agreement.

UK media reported today that Johnson had refused to say whether Northern Ireland would definitely leave the customs union. 

In a statement released this afternoon, Foster warned Johnson that the party “will always exercise our considerable influence in ensuring we stand up for Northern Ireland”. 

“We will only ever consider supporting arrangements that are in Northern Ireland’s long-term economic and constitutional interests,” she said. 

Foster, who has already made a dramatic u-turn to back Johnson’s Brexit plan – which would create a border in the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – said that her party was “regularly in touch with the Prime Minister and as a result he is aware of our views”. 

Previously, Foster had said that any kind of regulatory divergence was a “blood red line”.

“We have been consistent in our opposition to the backstop, whether UK or NI only, and anything that traps Northern Ireland in the European Union, whether Single Market or Customs Union, as the rest of the United Kingdom leaves will not have our support,” she said. 

“The Prime Minister is very mindful of that,” Foster added. 

Foster also warned Johnson, who does not possess a majority in the House of Commons, that he needed the votes of DUP MPs. 

“As a consequence of the mandate given to us by voters in 2017 the DUP is very relevant in the Parliamentary arithmetic and regardless of the ups and downs of the Brexit discussions that has not changed,” she said. 

UK Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay held key talks today with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier today as part of attempts to lay the foundation for so-called intensive “tunnel” negotiations in the coming days ahead of the crunch EU heads of government summit on 17 and 18 October.

One of the major sticking points of the Johnson plan was the suggestion that Stormont would have a say on the regulatory arrangements between the North and the rest of the UK – a decision that would leave the DUP with a veto on the future customs arrangements of the region. 

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There has been speculation that a referendum could be used instead of a vote of the Assembly, which is currently suspended. 

While not commenting directly on this speculation, Foster said that her party had recognised “the need to be flexible and look at Northern Ireland specific solutions achieved with the support and consent of the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland”. 

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