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Arlene Foster says DUP will never accept different customs rules for Northern Ireland after Brexit in warning shot for Boris Johnson

The i logo The i 29/09/2019
Arlene Foster standing in front of a building © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd

The DUP will never accept a Brexit deal which puts Northern Ireland in a separate customs territory to the rest of the UK, leader Arlene Foster has insisted.

The former First Minister warned Boris Johnson not to make the same mistake as Theresa May by assuming the Northern Irish party will end up softening its red lines.

Speaking at the Conservative conference on Sunday, Mrs Foster claimed it was still possible to strike a revised Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. She said: "I think even at this late stage, we can find a deal that is acceptable to the House of Commons and acceptable to the European Union."

But the DUP leader added that the party would not support the idea of a "Northern Ireland-only backstop", which would see the province adopt the EU's laws on customs and goods regulations while Great Britain adopts a new regime.

Johnson warning

Mrs Foster said: "We have to leave on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. We can't have a different customs arrangement." She added: "When we set out our position, that is our position. That is the mistake, unfortunately, that Theresa May made. Our whole raison d'etre is the union - that is why we go into politics."

The DUP boss said she would "look at" any proposal to put a time limit on the backstop but added that the idea was unlikely to be supported by the EU.

Cabinet ministers insist the support of the DUP for any revised deal remains essential to getting it through Parliament despite claims Mr Johnson wants to sideline the party. One source told i: "The DUP are the canary down the mine - if they are onboard lots of colleagues will follow suit."

Jacob Rees-Mogg told Conservative members: "I think if the DUP are happy with the deal there will be very few Conservatives, including those who are without the whip, who are then against a deal, and at that point there are a number of people in other parties who think that yes we must now just finish this."

The Government has insisted the whole UK must leave the customs union but has quietly agreed that agricultural products in Northern Ireland can be governed by the same rules as the Republic of Ireland. The customs issue is now the last major sticking point in talks with Brussels as both sides refuse to weaken their position.

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