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Theresa May has warned her DUP allies that a customs border in the Irish sea may be written into the UK’s Brexit divorce deal, according to reports.

In a leaked letter, the prime minister tells unionist leader Arlene Foster that Brussels is pushing for the measure as a so-called “backstop to the backstop” on Northern Ireland’s customs status in case negotiations break down.

Ms May wants a deal containing a backstop measure creating a temporary “joint customs territory” with the EU for the whole of the UK.

But the bloc appears to be insisting on a fallback proposal aimed at avoiding a hard border between Ireland and the UK. This would effectively keep Northern Ireland aligned with Brussels’ customs union and single market, the letter is said to suggest.

In the letter, seen by The Times, Ms May reportedly says: “I am clear that I could not accept there being any circumstances or conditions in which that ‘backstop to the backstop’, which would break up the UK customs territory, could come in to force.”

Yet the DUP has interpreted the wording to mean that the sea border clause would still be written into the divorce agreement, the paper reported.

Ms Foster said in a statement: “The prime minister’s letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK.

“It appears the prime minister is wedded to the idea of a border down the Irish sea with Northern Ireland in the EU single market regulatory regime.”

Ms May has been battling to agree a divorce deal with the EU that can satisfy Brussels, her own party and the DUP, whose 10 votes she will likely need to get the agreement through the House of Commons. Read more

Related news: Prince Charles insists he will not ‘meddle’ in politics when he becomes king. Read more