May writes to DUP over potential border in Irish Sea

Liam Fox: UK must be able to withdraw from Irish backstop

Liam Fox: UK must be able to withdraw from Irish backstop

In extracts published by The Times, the prime minister's letter refers to European Union demands for the proposed Brexit backstop arrangement to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The PM's five-page letter, leaked to The Times, was sent on Tuesday to Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, and Nigel Dodds, her deputy.

"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".

Brexit talks had been deadlocked over the so-called backstop - the fallback position that would be activated if a future EU-UK trade deal does not produce a solution that would prevent a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

In the letter, Mrs May said she would never allow a divide between the Northern Ireland and Britain "to come into force".

The Democratic Unionist Party said it appeared the Prime Minister was prepared to break her promise never to agree a deal which could separate Ireland from the UK.

The UK Prime Minister relies on the support of the DUP's 10 MPs for her Commons majority, votes which may become crucial as she attempts to get a deal through Parliament. To say, "because I've been incompetent in the negotiation so far I'm going to have to agree to a final backstop that could undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom, but go on to say, trust me because I'll be more competent in my future negotiation than I have in the ones to date", is a line that lacks credibility'.

Mrs Foster told the newspaper: "The prime minister's letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious Union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK". Your letter has raised a series of issues about the nature of the backstop.

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

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

A senior UK Government source said that reports in the European media that a deal could come in the next few days should be taken "with a very large pinch of salt".