What caused today’s Brexit crisis?
The Democratic Unionist Party said it “will not accept” a deal on the Irish border question brokered by Theresa May which treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK, throwing the already difficult talks into chaos.
The DUP is effectively propping up Ms May’s minority Government, giving the group of just 10 Irish MPs a significant influence on UK politics.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom,” she said, speaking at Stormont.
What was supposed to happen?
Theresa May met Jean Claude Junker, the President of the European Commission, in Brussels for the latest round of Brexit negotiations.
A deal on the Irish border question has to be reached as a matter of urgency, as when the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, the Republic of Ireland will remain a member while Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, will be outside of it – an unprecedented situation because the Irish Republic and the UK joined the union at the same time in 1973.
The hope was that a draft proposal would have been agreed allowing Northern Ireland to maintain “regulatory alignment” with the EU, preventing a hard border with the Irish Republic.
What was the sticking point?
Ms Foster gave a fiery press conference, declaring any such deal had not been approved by her party – regarded as hardline unionists.
She said: “The Republic of Ireland government is trying to unilaterally change the Belfast agreement without our impact and without our consent.
“Of course we will not stand for that.”
Within 20 minutes of this conference, Ms May is understood to have halted the talks to make an emergency call to Ms Foster.
After a three and a half hour working lunch, the Prime Minister and Mr Juncker emerged to admit in a slightly awkward press conference they had reached a stalemate in the talks.
What does “regulatory alignment” actually mean?
Regulatory alignment could mean both Ireland and Northern Ireland following the same rules governing trade, to ensure that goods can continue to move freely across a “soft” border with no customs checks.
But critics say this would effectively move the customs border between the UK and the Republic into the Irish Sea. This alarms the Unionists as they say it would mean Northern Ireland being treated as though it is part of a united Ireland instead as…