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Arlene Foster: Irish Sea border backstop plan unacceptable to DUP

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Arlene Foster has said the DUP cannot support a Brexit border plan that would separate Northern Ireland from Britain.

Her comments come after one of her MPs accused the prime minister of a "total betrayal".

Ms Foster, the DUP's leader, was talking to Sky News after leaked extracts of a letter she received from the PM were published in the Times.

The letter refers to EU demands for a proposed Brexit backstop that would create a border in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.

This would apply if a future EU-UK trade relationship failed to avert a hardening of the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Ms Foster told Sky News that would be "against the hope and desire to have future trading arrangements that work for the entire United Kingdom".

She said: "We have a legally binding document with a backstop that separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.... We cannot agree to something that hives off Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

"The letter sent to me by the prime minister essentially says the Northern Ireland-specific backstop is still in play and that's not something we as unionists can support."

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

However, in the leaked letter, Mrs May says the EU is still also proposing a Northern Ireland-only backstop.

The PM wrote: "They want to maintain a Northern Ireland-only 'backstop to the backstop' in case the future negotiations are unsuccessful.

"I am clear that I could not accept there being any circumstances or conditions in which that 'backstop to the backstop', which would break up the UK customs territory, could come into force.

"That is why it is critical that the provision for a UK-EU joint customs territory is legally binding in the Withdrawal Agreement itself, so that no 'backstop to a backstop' is required."

The DUP have taken Mrs May's words to mean a Northern Ireland-only backstop arrangement will still be included in the legal text, despite her assurance she will not allow it to "come into force"
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson told Sky News the prime minister was guilty of a "total betrayal"

and had gone back on "the promises she made".

He added: "If a deal emerges shaped on the contents of the prime minister's letter, DUP MPs and our allies will not support it. The prime minister knows the consequences, she now needs to reconsider."

Ministers have been scrambling to offer assurance that there will definitely not be a customs border in the Irish Sea.

Jeremy Wright, a cabinet minister and former attorney general, tried to calm tensions with the minority government's partners

He told Sky News: "There will not be a deal where we accept a border down the Irish Sea, and that's the reassurance we can offer to the DUP and frankly, everyone else in this country, who'd be concerned about that situation, were it ever to arise."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister's letter sets out her commitment, which she has been absolutely clear about on any number of occasions, to never accepting any circumstances in which the UK is divided into two customs territories

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

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

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