United Kingdom must be able to withdraw from Irish backstop — Liam Fox

United Kingdom must be able to withdraw from Irish backstop — Liam Fox

Downing Street reiterated the PM's own commitment to avoiding a hard border.

The DUP say alarm bells have been rung by a letter received from British Prime Minister Theresa May this week.

In the leaked letter, the prime minister also told the DUP she "would not accept being kept in a backstop arrangement indefinitely", while it would be "totally unacceptable" for a time limit to the UK-wide backstop arrangement to then simply result in the Northern Ireland-only solution being adopted.

Earlier today former Brexit secretary David Davis said it was "not acceptable" to make the United Kingdom wait until the Irish government and EU Commission had given it approval to withdraw from the backstop.

However, in the leaked letter, it is revealed Mrs May admitted to the DUP that the European Union is still proposing a Northern Ireland-only backstop arrangement alongside a UK-wide solution.

The party accused the prime minister of breaking a promise that that she would never sign up to a deal that treated Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

The letter adds that the constructive engagement strategy of the United Kingdom government's negotiators has not always been reciprocated by the EU.

The DUP, it says, appreciates that the Withdrawal Agreement is legally binding. "This is now a time for clarity and plain speaking", the letter states.

The prime minister has been pushing to agree a UK-wide backstop arrangement, which would see the whole United Kingdom remain in an effective customs union with the EU, after rejecting Brussels' proposal of a Northern Ireland-only solution.

The EU is adamant that there can not be a time limit - any backstop must apply "unless and until" it is no longer needed.

It says the risk of a hard border has been inflated and that Scottish nationalists are "ready to pounce" on distinctive treatment for Northern Ireland.

Amid speculation a deal is closed to being agreed, May's proposed backstop would see the entire United Kingdom effectively agree to remain in the customs union.

Downing Street has played down suggestions that a Brexit deal is imminent, after European Council president Donald Tusk appeared to indicate a breakthrough could come within the next week.

"The Prime Minister's letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious Union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK", Mrs Foster told The Times.

It is the latest row that threatens to further split Brexiteers and Remain MPs in Mrs May's divided party.

In it, Mrs May writes that she could not accept any circumstances in which a proposal that would break up the United Kingdom customs territory "could come in to force".

Downing Street says the letter sets out the prime minister's commitment "to never accepting any circumstances in which the United Kingdom is divided into two customs territories".

"The government will not agree anything that brings about a hard border on the island of Ireland".

The EU has insisted on a Northern Ireland-only "backstop to the backstop" in case negotiations on a wider United Kingdom approach break down.

Mr Lidington has been working with Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney in the final stages of Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and EU.

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