Blow for Theresa May as Nigel Dodds warns DUP's 'principled objections' to Brexit deal remain
Nigel Dodds has warned Theresa May that the DUP continues to have "principled objections" to her Brexit plans, less than two weeks before a crucial Commons vote on the deal she struck with Brussels.
Speaking after holding talks with the Prime Minister in Downing Street, the party's deputy leader reiterated its objection to the so-called "backstop" arrangement aimed at avoiding a return to a hard border in Ireland.
Mr Dodds said the proposal “flies in the face” of Mrs May's previous commitments to avoid any trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
He also accused the EU of “nonsense propaganda” for insisting the backstop was essential to prevent a customs border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
His comments are another blow for the Prime Minister, who needs the DUP to back her plans if the are to stand any chance of being passed in the meaningful vote due on the week beginning 14 January.
In a statement after the meeting, the Belfast North MP said: "No one wants a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Indeed, its becoming clearer by the day that no one is ever going to construct such a border.
"With this clarity emerging in London, Dublin and Brussels, there is evidently no need for the aspects of the withdrawal agreement which have been so vigorously opposed by a broad cross section of the House of Commons.
"The withdrawal agreement, as currently proposed, flies in the face of the Government’s commitments on Northern Ireland as we leave the EU. Contrary to pro-EU spin, the backstop is not the best of both worlds. It is potentially indefinite in time, would place a barrier between us and our main trading partner in Great Britain and give enormous leverage to the European Union in negotiations on the future relationship with the United Kingdom."
However, Mr Dodds added that his party would continue to work with the Government as Mrs May seeks to get legal assurances from the EU that the backstop will only be permanent.
He said: “Brussels must now demonstrate that if it truly cares about Northern Ireland, the erecting a new east-west barrier should be no more palatable than having any new north-south barriers.”
Mrs May has spent the holiday period ringing around EU leaders in a bid to win concessions
But conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council President Donald Tusk have failed to break the deadlock.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the EU Commission reiterated that negotiations had “concluded” and that the withdrawal agreement could not be changed.
“The deal that is on the table is the best and only deal possible and the EU 27 leaders confirmed on 13 December in their conclusions that will not be renegogiated,” they said. “As I understand for now, no further meetings are foreseen between the commission’s negotiators and the UK’s negotiators as negotiations have indeed concluded.”
Eloise Todd, chief of pro-Remain campaign group Best for Britain said the DUP’s continued objections had “killed off” the Prime Minister’s deal.
She added: “The DUP have pulled the rug out form underneath the Prime Minister. Her Brexit deal is dead in the water.”
“If Theresa May can’t convince Nigel Dodds and her own party to back her deal after a one-to-one, why should the country support it? It irritates Leavers and Remainers alike, and it actively concedes influence over British laws. It’s a bad deal.
“There’s only one solution to this nightmare. We need to give the public a final say on Brexit with the option to stay and strengthen ourselves within Europe.”