Nigel Dodds: The DUP is not bluffing over threat to bring down power pact with Theresa May over Brexit
The DUP is not bluffing in its threat to break the confidence and supply deal keeping Theresa May in power, Nigel Dodds has insisted.
The party's Westminster leader said he had been “crystal clear” with the Conservatives that “one part of the UK cannot be left behind” after Brexit.
His comments were a reference to EU plans to keep Northern Ireland in a customs union and large parts of the single market - effectively creating a regulatory trade border down the Irish Sea - to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Dodds' warning comes as the Prime Minister struggles to agree a way forward that would ensure the Northern Irish border remains open, with last-ditch talks with the EU failing to secure a breakthrough last night.
Mrs May wants to keep the whole of the UK in a customs union temporarily with the bloc in case a new arrangement to protect the border is not in place by the Brexit date of March next year.
The DUP - whose 10 MPs prop the PM up in her minority government - has already threatened to vote down the upcoming Budget if she agrees to an arrangement which treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK.
Some have accused the party of bluffing, insisting there is no way they would trigger a general election which could usher in a Jeremy Corbyn government.
Breaking cover on the issue today, Mr Dodds said the confidence and supply deal was “based on a common understanding that we would leave (the EU) as one nation”.
“We will not be party to the abandonment of fundamental principles and harm to the Union to be codified forever in a Withdrawal Agreement,” he wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph.
“We could not support such a proposition. Bluff? We don't gamble with the Union.”
It comes amid mounting pressure from the Conservative ranks to ensure any backstop arrangement that keeps the whole UK in the customs union comes with a strict end date.
Pro-Brexit Tories fear the UK could end up tied to the bloc indefinitely if a clear cut-off point is not written into the agreement.
Three top ministers thought to be on the verge of quitting over the issue - Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and Penny Mordaunt - are reportedly due to meet tonight to strategise over takeaway pizza.
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - who himself resigned from the frontbench over the PM’s Chequers plan - urged Mrs May to ditch the backstop proposals altogether.
“In presuming to change the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom, the EU is treating us with naked contempt,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
It comes after reports Tory MPs were rallying behind ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis over a possible bid to challenge Mrs May, who urged ministers to “exert their collective authority” over the issue.
And Scottish Secretary David Mundell, along with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson suggested they could resign over a backstop that cut Northern Ireland off from the rest of the UK.
Elsewhere, Labour Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has urged the Government to publish its plans for the Northern Irish backstop.