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Boris Johnson edges closer towards a Brexit deal as DUP drop red lines

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Boris Johnson is edging closer towards agreeing a new Brexit deal after the Democratic Unionist Party, which supports his minority government, moved towards dropping its central red line against an agreement.

The DUP has previously been one of the main barriers towards the UK parliament ratifying a deal, due to their opposition to any divergence on trade rules between Great Britain and Northern Ireland after the the UK leaves the EU.

The Northern Irish party repeatedly voted against Theresa May’s Brexit deal due to this opposition, leading to the collapse of her deal and her ultimate resignation as prime minister.

Under that deal the ‘backstop’ for preserving the invisible Irish border would lead to Northern Ireland following EU trade rules, while the rest of the UK would not.

However, The Times newspaper reports on Friday that staunch unionist party indicated to Johnson that it would now be prepared to accept some regulatory checks in the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Read more: Leaked resolution reveals the European Parliament is preparing to grant the UK another Brexit extension

This could be a key development in boosting the prime minister’s chances of a revised agreement with the EU.

The prime minister has said that he will take the UK out of the EU without a deal unless Brussels agrees to scrap the backstop in is current form and said he would rather “be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit for a third time.

However, the House of Commons last week passed a bill that would require him to request an extension if he fails to secure a deal after a crunch summit of European leaders on October 18.

As a result, the prime minister has since floated the idea of replacing the backstop with a model under which Northern Ireland would follow the same rules as the EU when it comes to “agri-food” checks on animal and plant goods.

How significant is the DUP’s reported concession?

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The DUP moved quickly to reject the Times newspaper report. Foster tweeted that the party would not accept any barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and described the story as “nonsense.”

Even if the DUP did drop this particular red line, a deal on replacing the backstop would likely still be a long way off.

The Times report adds that the DUP will not accept any deal which would keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the EU, and that the party wants “alternative arrangements” to deal with new customs checks.

Read more: These business owners on the Irish border fear a no-deal Brexit could soon wreck their livelihoods

Read more: ‘The guns are back out again’: Northern Ireland fears a Brexit border will escalate violence

However, the EU has repeatedly said that the technology needed to carry out such checks without the need for physical infrastructure does not exist. Brussels is pushing for a backstop under which the province would stay in the customs union and follow swathes of single market rules until alternative means of preserving the border are ready.

It’s also unclear whether a Brexit deal based a Northern Ireland-only backstop would get through Parliament.

Numerous pro-Brexit Conservative MPs in the European Research Group have demanded that Johnson scraps the entire Withdrawal Agreement, not just the backstop for Northern Ireland.

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