British Prime Minister Theresa May drew the fury of her crucial Northern Irish allies on Friday after seemingly accepting an EU-backed Brexit solution they fervently oppose.
London's latest political spat underscores the trouble May's fractured government faces in passing through parliament any Brexit arrangement it thrashes out with Brussels over the coming days.
The Times newspaper reported that May sent a five-page letter on Tuesday to the leaders of Northern Ireland's small Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that props up her government. May reportedly told her ruling coalition partners she would never allow the disputed Brexit deal proposal offered by Brussels to "come into force."
But DUP leaders said on Friday that May's wording meant the fix would still be included in the withdrawal agreement that London and Brussels hope to reach in the coming days. They said May had earlier promised them it never would, and they threatened to vote against the agreement. "The PM's letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious union & for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole UK," DUP leader Arlene Foster tweeted.
At issue is the problem of how to avoid border checks between British Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit enters into force on March 29. London suggests Britain could temporarily stay aligned with the bloc's trade rules but wants to reserve the right to exit the arrangement. The EU appears ready to accept that, but only if there is a fallback option written into the withdrawal agreement.