EXCL Nigel Dodds warns Theresa May: We will never waver on our Brexit red lines
Nigel Dodds has warned Theresa May the DUP will never “waver” on the party’s Brexit red lines as she battles to persuade them to back her deal.
In an interview with The House magazine, the deputy DUP leader said protecting the United Kingdom’s constitutional integrity “remains sacrosanct and above everything else”.
While Mr Dodds said the DUP are in the business of “wanting to get a deal done”, he warned that the party is well versed in negotiations and would not succumb to pressure from outside forces.
He also savaged the Prime Minister's negotiating strategy, branding the decision to trigger Article 50 before having a clear strategy in place a “major mistake”.
And he accused Karen Bradley of “glaring failures” as Northern Ireland Secretary and called for a change of leadership in the “dysfunctional” department.
The DUP once again voted against the Withdrawal Agreement this week after Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, admitted the deal could still see the UK kept in the Irish backstop indefinitely against its will.
Mrs May now faces a race against time to persuade the party, which props up her minority government, to finally back it before a third meaningful vote next week.
Mr Dodds said his party would consider “very, very carefully” any updates to Mr Cox’s legal advice, but insisted the party would stick to its objective of ensuring Northern Ireland is treated the same as the rest of the UK post-Brexit.
“Our message is that we have set out very clear objectives, we haven’t changed in those objectives and we won’t be changing them because of any kind of deadline. The Government is well aware of that,” he told The House.
“Our primary objective is to ensure that there is – and we’ve said it before, it’s our one red line – that Northern Ireland is not separated off and treated differently in fundamental areas like customs and the single market with the rest of the United Kingdom.
“We have never wavered in that and we will not waver in that red line… that issue of the United Kingdom’s constitutional integrity is of such importance to us that it remains sacrosanct and above everything else.
"We have been talking to the Government about that and we wait to see what happens.”
When asked if he felt pressure to come to a view on Brexit, he replied: “Yes, I’m very conscious of the pressure. Of course, within the Westminster bubble, you feel that pressure very intensely.
“The DUP MPs have long experience of that kind of pressure and are very connected to their constituents and their constituencies back home. So, we have learnt over many years of experiences of how to balance that.
“But we are conscious of our wider responsibilities to the nation. But we believe that that is complementary to our responsibilities to Northern Ireland.
“So, we are in the business of wanting to get a deal done. We were very much behind Geoffrey Cox’s efforts – and the Prime Minister’s efforts – to get the necessary changes.
“We were disappointed and sorry that we weren’t able to support the Government. But Geoffrey’s advice was the clincher for a lot of our MPs when he made it clear that in terms of the backstop that nothing had changed in terms of the legal risk.”
Commenting on the Brexit negotiations, Mr Dodds lamented Mrs May’s decision to accept the EU’s sequencing on talks, branding the decision “catastrophic”.
“The other problem was triggering Article 50 before the Government had actually got its ducks in a row. That was another major mistake,” he continued.
“We did warn the Prime Minister. Of course, the most catastrophic error of all was the decision to accept the Irish protocol back in December  in a political document.”
Mr Dodds called on ministers to revisit paragraph 50 of the Irish protocol, which would ensure that Stormont had a say over any new regulatory barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“That’s something that they should address now. That’s a pretty important area that they must look at,” he said.
Mr Dodds was also critical of the performance of Ms Bradley, who has faced calls in recent weeks to resign after she said killings during the Troubles at the hands of the security forces were not crimes.
In an interview with The House in September, she revealed she was not aware before she became NI Secretary that elections in Northern Ireland are fought along constitutional lines, as “people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa”.
“Karen obviously has had her problems and difficulties, there’s no doubt about that. The NIO [Northern Ireland Office] has been, in our view, a dysfunctional department for quite a time. It needs strong leadership,” Mr Dodds said.
“I think that Karen has, perhaps, not been as out there in terms of getting across the people in Northern Ireland, talking to them, meeting with groups and all the rest of it, as some of her predecessors.
“I know that, however, Brexit and the votes here has meant that maybe she hasn’t had as much time. But her basic policy approach has been flawed in the sense that she has decided that Northern Ireland could just stand still, leave it to the civil servants. For that, that’s a glaring failure on her part. She has not taken a grip and shown the leadership that she should have.”
When asked if there should there be a change of leadership in the Northern Ireland Office, he replied: “I think the Government needs to have a change of leadership in a number of departments, yes, across the board.”