The Democratic Unionist party is threatening to scupper the Brexit deal that Boris Johnson is on the brink of agreeing with the EU.

On the morning of a crucial EU summit in Brussels, a joint statement from the DUP’s leader, Arlene Foster, and her deputy, Nigel Dodds, explicitly says the party cannot support the deal that is close to being finalised.

The pound fell 0.5% against the dollar and the euro within minutes of the announcement.

The DUP statement said: “As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity on VAT.”


— DUP (@duponline) October 17, 2019

The statement will come as blow to the prime minister, who hopes to bring back a deal from the Brussels meeting and then secure the backing of parliament in a rare Commons vote pencilled in for Saturday.

The backing of the 10 DUP MPs is crucial for the success of that vote because many Conservative Brexiters have indicated they will not back a deal that is opposed by unionists.

Steve Baker, the chair of the hard Brexit European Research Group, said he was optimistic the group would back a deal. But he also suggested the ERG could not support it if Johnson failed to secure the backing of the DUP.

“If the DUP are happy, it’s not for us to gainsay” @SteveBakerHW confirms that the ERG will take their lead from the DUP on Northern Ireland. #Peston

— Peston (@itvpeston) October 16, 2019

The DUP statement added: “We will continue to work with the government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.”

Johnson has met Foster and Dodds three times in the last three days as he tried to shore up their support before Saturday’s deadline to prevent a delay to Brexit.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, told Johnson in a phone call on Thursday morning that time was short if leaders were to approve the Brexit deal this week.

A spokesman for the commission said: “Every hour and minute counts before the [European council],. We want a deal.”

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels in the afternoon for a two- day summit and Brexit was due to be the first item on the agenda.

A senior EU official said a legal text was yet to be shared among member states as Downing Street had not given the green light. “Maybe we have a deal, maybe not”, the official said. “We have somehow got used to it – we know when Brexit is on the agenda we expect the unexpected.”

Discussions on the tentative Brexit deal could now be pushed back to Friday to give Johnson more time to win over the DUP.

The official said: “Still today we don’t know how things will evolve. But I think at a certain moment, if there is no legal text there will be someone who will say: ‘A withdrawal agreement is an international treaty and my officials need to read it before I approve it – this is an ancient tradition and I am not willing to change it’.”

Johnson would be given an opportunity to address the EU27 on the terms of the deal, if it was secured, the source said. “We will have to consider our options in light of the situation”, the official said in an acknowledgement that the issue of a Brexit extension beyond 31 October was likely to be discussed.

The official said even if a deal was given political approval at the summit, it “may be impossible” to have it ratified before 31 October, given the complexity of the treaty, the need for “legal scrubbing” and parliamentary scrutiny on both sides of the channel.

The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, said on BBC Breakfast: “We know there are clearly concerns on the part of the DUP and we want to try and work through these productively in the hours to come.

“All sides in this do want to secure an orderly exit from the EU, and I think one is in sight, although there is clearly very significant issues to be hammered out. Let’s wait and see.”

He said he expected Johnson to go to Brussels to meet with members of the European council.

Under the so-called Benn act, if Johnson cannot get a deal passed by Saturday he will be forced to seek an extension to the 31 October deadline for the UK to leave the European Union.

The DUP is digging in over the prospect of a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, as well as the issues of consent regarding the suspended Stormont assembly.

Another significant issue is whether EU VAT rates would apply in Northern Ireland.

Johnson told the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers a day before the summit that his situation was like climbing Mount Everest, according to MPs in attendance.

The Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, has confirmed that the PM will write a letter asking for an article 50 extension if no deal is in place by Saturday.

This is despite Johnson repeatedly ruling out asking for a further delay under his “do or die” commitment to leave the EU by the current Halloween deadline.


Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

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