DUP chief Arlene Foster calls for ‘cool heads’ in the crisis-hit Brexit talks as she arrives for a showdown meeting with the Irish PM amid growing fears Britain will crash out of the bloc

  • DUP leader is in Dublin for showdown Brexit talks with Irish PM Leo Varadkar
  • She repeated her ‘blood red’ line that no new barriers can be imposed in the UK  
  • Brexit talks are plunged into turmoil over the thorny issue of the Irish border 

Arlene Foster today called for ‘cool heads’ in the Brexit talks amid growing fears that Britain will crash out of the bloc without a deal.

Theresa May’s Brexit plans have reached a crisis after she dramatically pulled the plug on a fledgling divorce settlement over the EU’s demands for the Irish backstop.

Mrs Foster, leader of the DUP, arrived in Dublin this afternoon where she is holding crunch talks with the Irish PM Leo Varadkar.

She repeated her ‘blood red’ line – saying that a deal which creates new barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be totally unacceptable.

With Brexit negotiations in turmoil, she said: ‘There have to be cool heads in what is a very febrile atmosphere.’

Arlene Foster (pictured today in Brussels) today called for ‘cool heads’ in the Brexit talks amid growing fears that Britain will crash out of the bloc without a deal

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And she lashed the EU’s ‘backstop to a backstop’ to the thorny issue of the Irish border, which would leave Northern Ireland tied to the the bloc’s customs and some single market rules if no free trade deal is done in time.

Mrs Foster – whose ten DUP MPs wield a massive amount of political power as they prop the Tories up in No10 – said: ‘Great Britain is our largest market by far and we cannot have barriers.’

Why can’t the UK and EU agree on a Brexit divorce deal?  

The Irish border is the major sticking point in the Brexit divorce negotiations.

The concept of a ‘backstop’, to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic whatever the future trade relationship, was agreed by both sides in December last year.

But they have dramatically different idea on how the mechanism would work. 

Brussels insists that Northern Ireland should stay under its customs jurisdiction. 

But Mrs May says that would be unacceptable as it would split up the UK.

The PM was thought to be trying to break the deadlock by proposing a new ‘backstop’ arrangement for the Irish border.

The blueprint could mean the whole UK staying in the EU customs union ‘temporarily’ and accepting regulatory checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland.

But Mrs May was already facing a huge outcry as there was not expected to be any hard end date – with many Cabinet ministers and Tory MPs fearing that in reality it would keep the UK subject to Brussels rules for good.

It is understood the EU surprised the UK team by demanding a ‘backstop on the backstop’ – underpinning the UK proposals with its own original Northern Ireland-only backstop.

That would involve customs checks on goods travelling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK – effectively imposing a ‘border in the Irish Sea’.

Government sources said there was a ‘real problem’ to be overcome.  

She said Northern Ireland sent three-and-a-half times more goods to Great Britain than to the Republic.

‘So it is very important that we don’t have barriers between ourselves and the rest of Great Britain.’

She added: ‘I very much hope we do get a deal, a sensible Brexit. 

‘One that works for Northern Ireland but also one that works for our friends and colleagues in the Republic of Ireland as well.’

The showdown between the two leaders comes as Mrs May launched a desperate bid to win over EU leaders tonight as she delivered a stark warning that there will be no Brexit deal unless Brussels drops its Irish border demands.

The Prime Minister came under intense fire from Remainers and Brexiteers as she faced MPS to give a statement to the Commons.  

She warned she is ready to leave the bloc without a deal if the EU sticks to its call for Northern Ireland to be ‘carved off’ from the rest of the UK.

Insisting she had no choice but to torpedo the draft deal last night after Brussels tried to create a ‘backstop to the backstop’, Mrs May told MPs: ‘I could never accept that.

‘We have been clear that we cannot agree to anything that threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom.’

Mrs May has been ringing round EU leaders including Angela Merkel and Dutch PM Mark Rutte, and will be telephoning the most hawkish – French president Emmanuel Macron – later.

But she is coming under heavy pressure from Eurosceptics including Boris Johnson and the DUP to toughen up her stance further by putting a hard end date on any backstop.

In the House this afternoon, Mrs May dodged the issue of an end date, but made clear that any UK-wide customs union put in place would need to be ‘temporary’ to avoid the country being left ‘in limbo’. 

Mrs May appealed for MPs to hold their nerve as she ran the gauntlet of the Commons in the wake of the debacle.

In a statement to MPs, the Prime Minister urged ‘cool heads’ and said the ‘broad shape’ of a divorce deal was becoming clear

‘We are entering the final stages of these negotiations,’ she said. ‘This is the time for cool, calm heads to prevail.

‘And it is the time for a clear-eyed focus on the few remaining but critical issues that are still to be agreed.’ 

But Mrs May added that she would not tolerate the proposals for a ‘backstop to the backstop’.

‘The EU says there is not time to work out the detail of this UK-wide solution in the next few weeks,’ she said.

‘So even with the progress we have made, the EU still requires a ‘backstop to the backstop’ – effectively an insurance policy for the insurance policy.

‘And they want this to be the Northern Ireland-only solution that they had previously proposed.

‘We have been clear that we cannot agree to anything that threatens the integrity of our United Kingdom.’    

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