BELFAST (Reuters) – The leader of the Northern Irish party propping up Britain’s government warned British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday that it could abandon her if she got her Brexit divorce deal through parliament.
With four months left until Britain leaves the EU, the divorce treaty and accompanying political declaration are due to be rubber-stamped in Brussels on Sunday by May and the other 27 EU leaders so they can go to the respective parliaments.
The biggest obstacle to the accord is the vehement opposition in the British parliament from within May’s party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which agreed to a ‘confidence and supply’ deal last year to back her minority government after a snap election.
The party’s leader, Arlene Foster, flatly reiterated the DUP’s opposition to the deal “as it currently stands”, telling May to “stop wasting time” and seek a better one, while also warning of the consequences if she did not.
“If she is successful in parliament, and there is no evidence she is going to be, then of course we are going to revisit the confidence and supply agreement. That agreement was about giving national stability and delivering on Brexit,” Foster told BBC Radio Ulster.
“But we’re not there yet, and we’re not going to jump ahead until we see what happens in parliament.”
The draft withdrawal treaty contains a ‘backstop’ provision that could ultimately align Northern Ireland more closely with the EU than the rest of the United Kingdom.
Under the terms of a 1998 agreement that largely ended years of violence between Irish republicans and pro-British unionists, border posts were removed and the province was given a power-sharing structure where both communities were represented.
Foster’s pro-British unionist party fears that the backstop provision, if implemented, could one day threaten the province’s place in the UK altogether.
She had already urged May to ditch the ‘backstop’, which negotiators had grappled with for months. She added that the draft political declaration that followed, on future relations, had not changed the DUP’s opposition.
May has responded by telling her critics that Britain will not get a better deal with the EU if it does not take this one.
But Foster disagreed, saying the DUP did not accept that the current choice was a binary one between May’s deal and a ‘no deal’ where Britain would leave the bloc on March 29 without an agreement to mitigate economic and legal disruption.
May’s finance minister Philip Hammond, who met Foster in Northern Ireland on Friday, said May had gone a long way in the Brexit negotiations to gain assurances that the deal would in no way threaten Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
(Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Kylie MacLellan in London; Editing by Kevin Liffey)