Government and DUP will ‘sort out’ Irish border dispute, Chancellor claims

The Government is considering providing extra border backstop assurances to the DUP, the Chancellor has said.

Philip Hammond said ministers have a number of choices through the parliamentary process, which include extending the Brexit implementation period ahead of the permanent relationship.

That could avoid having to use a backstop, in which the UK would continue to follow EU regulations relating to trade across the Irish border – a solution which is adamantly opposed by the DUP.

Mr Hammond met DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds in the lobby of a Belfast hotel before holding a meeting with them.

He said he was delighted to be there and relations between the two parties were good.

Earlier, the Chancellor visited a school in Moira, Co Down, on Friday and told the BBC: “I would much prefer to see us extending the implementation period and I am sure my DUP colleagues would take the same view.

“So we need to look at how we can provide reassurance about how we will use the options that the agreement gives us.”

Philip Hammond visit to Northern Ireland
Philip Hammond visit to Northern Ireland

The DUP has promised to oppose the Prime Minister’s draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU over its concerns about the Irish backstop arrangement, which is designed to prevent the imposition of a hard Irish border.

It would mean Northern Ireland continuing to follow EU regulations relating to matters like cross-border trade.

The DUP is determined to prevent any divergence from the rest of the UK.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox also visited Northern Ireland on Friday and said language in the draft UK-EU Political Declaration, which refers to looking at technology to address the Irish border, is encouraging.

No technological solution has yet been identified.

The DUP’s arrangement to support the Government on key votes like finance and Brexit matters in exchange for £1 billion extra funding for Northern Ireland is under huge strain because of their dispute over the backstop.

The Chancellor said the DUP and Conservatives “don’t always agree on everything but I’m sure we’ll sort it out, we are two parties that agree fundamentally on the importance of maintaining the union”.

Philip Hammond visit to Northern Ireland
Philip Hammond visit to Northern Ireland

As part of previous political agreements, the Chancellor said £66 million would be released for shared and integrated education projects in Northern Ireland.

A total of 23 schools will benefit.

The Chancellor said: “The UK Government is backing these vitally important schools so they can offer a shared education to more children across Northern Ireland.

“Northern Ireland’s economy is powering ahead and the UK Government is committed to supporting a bright, shared future, helping more young people here to achieve their full potential.”