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Foster denies DUP is set to make concessions on Brexit

David Young/PA Wire

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has dismissed a report that it will offer Prime Minister Boris Johnson a lifeline to help him unlock a Brexit deal.

A front page article in Friday's Times newspaper said the DUP has agreed to shift its red lines on Brexit, saying it could accept Northern Ireland abiding by some European Union rules post-Brexit as part of a new deal to replace the Irish backstop.

The paper claimed the DUP, the biggest party in Northern Ireland, had also privately said it would drop its objection to regulatory checks in the Irish Sea, something it had previously said was unacceptable since it would separate Northern Ireland politically and economically from the mainland.

The Times, citing unidentified sources, wrote that, in return for such concessions, Brussels would abandon its insistence on Northern Ireland remaining in a customs union with the EU.

However, DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted that, as previously indicated, any moves which did make Northern Ireland different from the rest of the UK would be unacceptable to the party.

"UK must leave as one nation. We are keen to see a sensible deal but not one that divides the internal market of the UK," Mrs Foster tweeted.

"We will not support any arrangements that create a barrier to East West trade."

She added: "Anonymous sources lead to nonsense stories."

The DUP's Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, also rejected reports that the party was softening its stance, but said he had detected a different tone in talks between London and Dublin.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think that there was a different attitude in the talks between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach at the beginning of the week and there seemed to be less rhetoric at those discussions from what there had been in the past.

"And I suppose that's progress."

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has been warned against breaking the law over Brexit by Speaker John Bercow, who vowed that "creativity" in Parliament would scupper a no-deal exit.

The comments drew sharp criticism from prominent Tory Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin, who said the Speaker had launched a personal attack on the Prime Minister.

Mr Bercow's intervention came as the EU's chief negotiator said there is "no reason to be optimistic" that a new agreement can be brokered before the Prime Minister's deadline to ask for a delay.

Michel Barnier told political leaders in the European Parliament on Thursday that he was unable to say whether contacts with the UK Government would result in a deal by mid-October.

The PM is legally bound to ask Brussels for an extension to Article 50 if he cannot get MPs to back a deal by October 19, after Parliament approved legislation designed to prevent a no-deal.

Mr Barnier's warning came after the PM was forced to deny lying to the Queen in order to secure his five-week suspension to Parliament as the Halloween departure deadline looms.

Outgoing Commons Speaker Mr Bercow said in a London speech that the so-called Benn Act enforcing the extension means the only possible Brexit outcome is one approved by Parliament.

The former Tory warned that it is "astonishing" that anyone has entertained the idea that the PM could disobey the law, after Mr Johnson said he would rather be "dead in a ditch" than ask for a delay.

Mr Bercow compared refusing to ask for a delay in "what one might regard as the noble end" of Brexit to a bank robber insisting they would give their loot to charity.

If the Government comes close to disobeying the Act, the Speaker said Parliament "would want to cut off such a possibility and do so forcefully".

"If that demands additional procedural creativity in order to come to pass, it is a racing certainty that this will happen, and that neither the limitations of the existing rule book nor the ticking of the clock will stop it doing so," he added.

Sir Bernard attacked Mr Bercow's remarks, telling the BBC: "The office of Speaker has become irretrievably politicised and radicalised.

"It would have been unthinkable 10 or 15 years ago for the Speaker of the House of Commons to launch a personal attack on the Prime Minister like this."

Sir Bernard said MPs should now review the role of Speaker.

He said: "For one individual in what is now a contested, televised, very public and controversial position to have so much unregulated, untrammelled power is something, I think, that the House of Commons is going to have to look at."

Mr Johnson would not have to ask for an extension to January 31 if MPs approved a deal or no-deal under the Benn Act, which was pushed through Parliament by opposition MPs and Tory rebels.

But Mr Barnier, in a speech to MEPs, suggested that negotiating a new Withdrawal Agreement remained uncertain despite discussions between Mr Johnson's team and the EU.

"I cannot tell you objectively whether contacts with the Government of Mr Johnson will be able to reach an agreement by mid-October," he said.

"While we have previously reached an agreement, as far as we can speak, we have no reason to be optimistic."

The developments came on a day in which the PM "absolutely" denied lying to the Queen to get the suspension of Parliament.

Scotland's highest civil court ruled on Wednesday that the prorogation was unlawful because it was obtained for the "improper purpose of stymying Parliament".

Mr Johnson said the High Court in England had taken the opposite view to the Court of Session in Edinburgh and that the case would now be decided in the Supreme Court.

He also insisted he was "very hopeful" that he could secure a deal by the EU summit starting on October 17.

Meanwhile, the full opinions from the judges at the Edinburgh court emerged on Thursday evening.

Judge Lord Carloway said the "true reason" for the suspension was to reduce time for "Parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit" in a "clandestine manner".

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