Brexit: DUP endorses Johnson's offer to European Union

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Media captionDUP leader says new proposals “sensible and serious”

The DUP has endorsed Boris Johnson’s offer to the European Union.

It includes the creation of an all-island regulatory zone for agriculture, food and all manufactured goods.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was a serious and sensible way forward which “allows the people of Northern Ireland a role which they didn’t have”.

However, the Irish prime minister said the proposals “do not fully meet the agreed objectives of the backstop” – the mechanism they seek to replace.

After speaking with Boris Johnson on Wednesday evening, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar indicated “he would study them in further detail and would consult with the EU institutions, including the Task Force and our EU partners”.

The two prime ministers agreed to talk again next week.

Assembly vote

The backstop, agreed in Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, is meant to keep a free-flowing border on the island of Ireland, but critics fear it could trap the UK in EU trading rules indefinitely.

The government plan, outlined in a seven-page document published on Wednesday, would see Northern Ireland stay in the European single market for goods, but leave the customs union – resulting in new customs checks.

The Northern Ireland Assembly would get to approve the arrangements first and vote every four years on keeping them.

Speaking in Belfast after returning from the Conservative Party conference Mrs Foster said it gives the people of Northern Ireland “the consent that they didn’t have in terms of the anti-democratic nature of the backstop”.

“This is a serious and sensible way forward to have engagement with the European Union in a way that allows us all in the United Kingdom to leave the EU,” she added.

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The UK proposal is that a revived Stormont Assembly and Executive would have to give their consent for the trade arrangements to come into force before the end of a transition period, which is due to last until 2021.

That consent would then have to be renewed every four years.

Under Assembly cross-community voting rules this would give both unionists and nationalists a veto over aligning with the EU.

If the Assembly withheld its consent, Northern Ireland would revert to the trade regulations which apply elsewhere in the UK.

If the arrangements are approved by the Assembly and Executive, Northern Ireland would adopt EU trade regulations.

However, under the UK proposal it would remain within the UK customs territory meaning there will be a requirement for some customs checks on goods moving across the border.

The European Commission said it will “examine [the proposals] objectively”.

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The PM’s offer includes an “all-island regulatory zone”, meaning NI would follow EU rules for goods

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday, Mr Johnson described his plan as a “compromise for both sides” which would “protect the union”.

His offer is for an “all-island regulatory zone”, which would mean Northern Ireland would have to follow EU rules for goods.

There would be additional checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but the UK would not apply further checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Ireland.

Checks relating to the single market are about product standards, to ensure goods comply with EU regulations.

However, Northern Ireland would leave the EU customs union with the rest of the UK, so there would have to be new customs checks between North and South.

Those checks would look at customs documents and the payment of tariffs, which allow goods to cross the border in the first place.

The government proposals suggest the vast majority of checks could be carried out electronically – but thinks a small number of physical checks would have to take place, either at business premises or at points on the supply chain.

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‘Protect the union’

Sinn Féin described the prime minister’s plan as “an act of political sabotage”.

Vice President Michelle O’Neill said that the EU must not accept the proposals as they “failed to meet the objectives of the Irish backstop”.

She said: “While a no-deal Brexit was avoided in March and April, there is no optimism that this will be the case come 31 October.

“This is catastrophic for citizens and for business.”

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday, Mr Johnson described his plan as a “compromise for both sides” which would “protect the union”.

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The purported UK plan involves cross-border customs checks and a regulatory border in the Irish Sea

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the proposals were “dead on arrival”.

He has called on the leaders of the UK’s biggest parties to vote Mr Johnson out of office.

Alliance leader and MEP Naomi Long said: “This proposal is in many ways the worst of both worlds, as we’ve gone from having no new borders to having two.”

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann claimed the PM’s proposals would see Northern Ireland left in a “perpetual cycle of uncertainty”.

He said: “The prime minister and the DUP are fooling no-one with these proposals. This new protocol should be deeply concerning for all those who have the long term economic and constitutional welfare of Northern Ireland and its people at heart.

“Northern Ireland would become a hybrid part of the UK with a border up the Irish Sea.”