Any Brexit deal that applies to Northern Ireland will also cover the rest of the UK, David Davis has promised in an urgent bid to reassure the Democrat Unionist party on whom the government relies for votes.
The Brexit secretary told MPs the government was seeking “regulatory alignment” with the EU, although shortly afterwards the DUP MP Nigel Dodds said his party found such references to be unacceptable in a draft Brexit agreement text.
Davis insisted that any such alignment would be UK-wide and it would not mean retaining exactly the same rules as the EU, or remaining in the single market. He was responding to demands from a string of Scottish, Welsh and English MPs that any arrangements for Northern Ireland would apply across the country.
“The presumption of the discussion was that everything we talked about applied to the whole United Kingdom,” he said.
“Alignment isn’t harmonisation. It isn’t having exactly the same rules. It is sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection – that is what we are aiming at.”
A few minutes later Dodds revealed that his party had only been shown the government’s proposed wording for the Irish border text on Monday morning.
He made clear that his party found the reference to regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the republic “clearly unacceptable” amid concerns that it could weaken the economic and territorial integrity of the UK.
The unionist politician said the “ambiguous wording” was the reason for his party’s last-minute intervention to government officials, which forced Theresa May to step back from finalising a first-phase deal on Monday.
The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, later said she had been asking for the wording for five weeks, and that it had come as a “big shock” when it arrived on Monday.
She said her party, which lends May votes to secure a majority in parliament, was left in a difficult position.
“We had to try and understand what the ramifications of the text was. When we had a chance to do that, we realised that in no way could we sign up to that text, because essentially it was making a red line down the Irish Sea.”
She told RTE News that British negotiators had blamed the Irish government for preventing the DUP from seeing the text.