Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster has insisted any deal agreed as the UK prepares to leave the EU must meet her party’s red line.
Speaking after her meeting with Michel Barnier in Brussels, Mrs Foster said her party needs to see the legal text of any agreement to check it against its red line, which rules out any extra barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The UK Government has promised to set out further proposals on the “backstop” arrangement aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland, with speculation that it could involve regulatory checks on goods travelling between Britain and Northern Ireland.
ITV News Correspondent Angus Walker was at the press conference in Brussels
The EU’s proposed backstop would see Northern Ireland effectively remain in the customs union and single market while the rest of the UK shifts away from Brussels’ rules, something the Prime Minister has already said would be unacceptable.
Mrs Foster, whose 10 MPs play a critical role in propping up Theresa May’s administration in Westminster, said she wants to see a deal struck “that works for everyone”, while respecting the result of the referendum.
“It is vital that the European Union understands the sensitivities surrounding Northern Ireland and that fact that we are going to be the only integral part of the United Kingdom with a land border with the European Union after we leave next year,” she said.
“There cannot be barriers to trade in the UK internal market which would damage the economic well-being of Northern Ireland and therefore we could not support any arrangements which would give rise to either customs or regulatory barriers within the UK internal market.
“It’s been a useful meeting today, we look forward to continued engagement over the next couple of days.”
Watch Arlene Foster's full press conference:
Mrs Foster was accompanied to the meeting by DUP MEP Diane Dodds.
Mrs Dodds said any type of trade barrier between Northern Ireland and the UK would be “disastrous”.
“We do want a sensible Brexit, a Brexit that is good for the Union and good for all of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom as well as our neighbours in the Irish Republic,” Mrs Dodds said.
Following the meeting with the DUP delegation, Mr Barnier tweeted that his team are “working hard to explain and de-dramatise the backstop”.
Mr Barnier also met with Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann.
Mr Swann tweeted that his party delegation told Mr Barnier that unionists in Northern Ireland do not support the proposed backstop.
Earlier Mrs Foster tweeted an image from her meeting with Mr Barnier, emphasising that she will not tolerate any form of barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“The UK voted to leave the EU. Result must be respected,” she tweeted.
“The nation must leave together.”