FILE PHOTO: Deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Nigel Dodds is seen outside the Houses of Parliament, as uncertainty over Brexit continues, in London, Britain April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
LONDON (Reuters) – A mooted eleventh-hour solution to the Brexit deadlock cannot work because Northern Ireland must remain in a full United Kingdom customs union, the deputy leader of the province’s key political party said on Saturday.
The Democratic Unionist Party, which supports Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in Westminster, will play a key role in deciding whether Britain can agree a new withdrawal agreement with the European Union before the departure deadline of Oct. 31.
According to EU diplomats, Johnson has proposed keeping Northern Ireland in a UK customs union and some form of EU customs partnership. This means the province would face customs and regulatory checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Britain.
That is designed to prevent the return of customs checks on the island of Ireland, at the border between the British province and EU-member Ireland.
Negotiators for Britain and the EU have embarked on intense talks to see if they can make the proposal work, and while DUP leader Arlene Foster gave a guarded welcome to the plan on Friday, deputy leader Nigel Dodds sounded more downbeat.
Italian newspaper Repubblica quoted him as saying that Johnson knew their position. “No, it cannot work,” Dodds said, “because Northern Ireland has to remain fully part of the UK customs union”.
Dodds is the DUP’s leader in the Westminster parliament and his views have proved influential with some members of Johnson’s own party who want a cleaner break with Brussels. Opposition from the DUP led to parliament rejecting three times a previous Brexit deal agreed by Johnson predecessor Theresa May.
“We’ll wait and see,” Dodds said. “There is a lot of stuff coming from Brussels, pushed by the Europeans in the last hours, but one thing is sure: Northern Ireland must remain fully part of the UK customs union. And Boris Johnson knows it very well.”
Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by John Stonestreet