While promoting his expansion of the free schools network, the Prime Minister said: ‘I am going to go to Brussels and back to some other European capitals fairly soon to talk to them. We are working very hard to get a deal – I think we will get a deal.” The EU’s new trade commissioner Phil Hogan also said there was “movement on both sides” as the Prime Minister revealed he wanted to look at an all-Ireland solution to issues including agriculture.
The Government’s confidence and supply partners in the DUP include an all-Irish agricultural zone, which would allow livestock and agricultural goods to move freely across the border.
This suggested Mr Johnson could be exploring the option of Northern Ireland being aligned closely with the EU while the rest of the UK breaks away.
But DUP’s chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said any deal which created a trade border down the Irish Sea was a “non-runner”.
He added a Northern Ireland-only backstop would also undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
He said: “The solution to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland is not to create a second border in the Irish Sea because I think that would be deeply destabilising.”
Mr Johnson’s spokesman denied he was looking to return to the EU’s original proposal for a Northern Ireland specific backstop, which his predecessor Theresa May rejected.
The backstop aims to prevent the a hard border across Ireland.
This aspect of Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement would have left the whole of the UK bound to the customs union until “alternative arrangements” could be made.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds, who leads the party in Westminster, spent more than an hour at Downing Street yesterday.
Afterwards, they both insisted they had enjoyed a “very good” meeting.
Mrs Foster added the Prime Minister showed his “commitment to securing a deal which works for the entire United Kingdom”, as well as the Republic of Ireland.
This included rejecting the idea of a Northern Ireland-only backstop, which would have created a special economic zone for the country.
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Mrs Foster said in a statement yesterday: “The Prime Minister rejected a Northern Ireland-only backstop in a letter to Donald Tusk on 19 August.
“It is undemocratic and unconstitutional and would place a tariff border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
“That would be unacceptable.
“During today’s meeting, the Prime Minister confirmed his rejection of the Northern Ireland-only backstop and his commitment to securing a deal which works for the entire United Kingdom as well as our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland.”
The Conservatives have had the support of the DUP’s 10 MPs on many key issues since June 2017.
But Mrs May was unable to convince them to vote for her Brexit deal.
Mrs Foster, whose party backed Brexit, added a deal is possible without Northern Ireland being subject to different customs regulations to other parts of the UK.
“History teaches us that any deal relating to Northern Ireland which cannot command cross-community support is doomed to failure,” she added.
“That is why the Northern Ireland backstop is flawed. Not one single unionist MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly supports it.
“We want to see the referendum result implemented.
“Those blocking Brexit are causing uncertainty but more worrying they are damaging democracy by ignoring the United Kingdom’s decision.
“A sensible deal between the United Kingdom and European Union, which respects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, is the best way forward for everyone.”
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