DUP reject moves to extend Brexit transition period in fresh blow for Theresa May
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has rejected calls for the post-Brexit transition period to be extended, claiming it would cost the UK billions and not break the Irish border deadlock.
His comments came just hours after Theresa May - who relies on the Irish unionist party to prop up her minority government - gave her tentative backing for the idea.
At the moment, the so-called "implementation phase" of the UK's withdrawal from the EU - during which Britain will remain subject to the bloc's rules and laws - is due to run until the end of 2020
But the Prime Minister said the plan to extend the deadline by "a matter of months" had emerged during discussions at the EU Council summit in Brussels.
At a press conference this evening, Mrs May refused to rule out the move although she insisted she did not believe it was likely to happen.
She said: "If there is a gap between the end of the implementation period, which as I’ve said has been set at December 2020, and the introduction of the future relationship - if there is a period of months, and I think we would only be talking about a matter months - when there is that gap, it’s ensuring that there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland."
But in a statement, Nigel Dodds made clear his party was vehemently opposed to such a move.
He said: "An extension of the transition period offers does nothing significant on the key issue of the unacceptable EU backstop proposals.
"An extended transition period means the United Kingdom continues to pay but have no say in Brussels. Such an extension would cost the United Kingdom billions of pounds, yet our fundamental problem with the EU proposal remains.
"The DUP wants a Brexit deal that works for our nearest neighbours in the European Union but which respects the constitutional and economic integrity of the precious union. The backstop as proposed by the EU would undermine the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.
"I am glad that it is not just unionists in Northern Ireland who recognise the dangers of the EU proposals on the backstop to the Union. Such a backstop is unacceptable to many others from right across the United Kingdom."
His comments came after Tory MPs on all wings of the party also rejected extending the transition period.
Former minister Nick Boles, who campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, told the Today programme: "I’m afraid she’s losing the confidence now of colleagues of all shades of opinion - people who’ve been supportive of her throughout this process – they are close to despair at the state of this negotiation."
Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns tweeted: “Back in July, myself and 36 colleagues signed a letter to the Prime Minister setting out our red lines – and that was one of them. It’s completely ridiculous."
Downing Street has consistently said that the UK is not "proposing" extending the transition period, but that was contradicted by EU Council president Donald Tusk.
He said: "Let me recall that in her Florence speech in September 2017 Prime Minister May proposed a transition period of around two years and the EU accepted this proposal unanimously. Therefore if the UK decided that an extension of the transition period would be helpful to reach a deal I’m sure the leaders would be ready to consider it positively."
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the "prolongation of the transition period probably will happen".
He added: "It’s a good idea. It’s not the best idea the two of us had but I think this is giving us some room to prepare the future relation in the best way possible."