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Brexit 'is battle for the union itself' says DUP's Nigel Dodds

By Gareth Cross

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said that Brexit has turned into a "battle for the union itself" with the European Union and UK government no closer to agreeing a withdrawal deal.

Mr Dodds denied that his party wanted to see a no-deal Brexit, but was clear that his party will not be moved on their red lines and said that if the EU continued to push for a backstop it would "inevitably lead to a stand off".

DUP leader Arlene Foster is set to meet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Monday, while Sinn Fein are meeting Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in London.

Unscheduled talks between Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Sunday failed to resolve key issues including the Irish border.

The backstop, intended to avoid a hard border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, has been a major sticking point in the negotiations

The EU version of the backstop, which would see just Northern Ireland remain aligned with Brussels' rules, has been called unacceptable by Mrs May and has been rejected out of hand by the DUP.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme on Monday morning Mr Dodds denied that his party wanted to get rid of Prime Minister Theresa May, but acknowledged unrest within the Conservative Party.

"The Conservative Party are deeply troubled about the way things are going. What we need to see is a policy that delivers Brexit and which safeguards the union," the North Antrim MP said.

"Mrs May said that there would be no new borders within the United Kingdom, the whole of the UK including Northern Ireland would leave the Customs Union and the Single Market.

"What we need to see is that delivered. We want to see a sensible Brexit which delivers on the promises, because the whole of the United Kingdom voted that way."

Mr Dodds pointed out that Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson held the same view as the DUP and that the narrative of the "DUP holding the government to ransom" was not true.

"We're trying to solve one problem which is the Irish border issue, which has been overhyped, then you're going to create another more fundamental problem and what we're about is trying to solve problems not create more which will divide our economy off from our main market.

"We don't want a no-deal, but if the arrogance and hubris of the EU continues, with Michel Barnier putting forward proposals about breaking up the Union, if they continue to maintain that hard line then the chance of a no-deal does increase. We don't want that to happen we're working to prevent it. Those who are running around criticising us, like Sinn Fein who don't even take their seats would be better off making their influence felt than putting up posters."

The North Antrim MP took aim at Sinn Fein after they said that the DUP's Brexit demands were a threat to the economy.

"We will ensure that the whole of the United Kingdom, that nothing will be done that can hurt the economy. The biggest damage done to the economy of Northern Ireland over the years was Sinn Fein, to listen to them now talk about instability when they still eulogise terrorists who actually murdered industrialists, livelihoods and bombs etc, the irony is unbelieveable," Mr Dodds said.

"It is the EU if it maintains its position that it wants a backstop then that is something that will inevitably lead to a stand off. As Theresa May said no Prime Minister could ever except it. We need to get real.  The United Kingdom cannot be broken up. This is now clearly turning into a battle for the union itself."

Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir said that his party had a clear message for the Prime Minister ahead of their meeting on Monday.

"There's certainly something happening, we are reaching a crunch time in the negotiations, our message to Theresa May will be to keep her commitmnets. She's made a commitment that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland," he told Good Morning Ulster. 

"She is committed to the backstop which the majority of parties in the Assembly and people here voted for, to remain in the customs union and the single market. The Good Friday Agreement will not be crashed by this Brexit being foisted upon us."

"That's our clear message, will Mrs May listen? We know she is a hostage of the DUP, or has been until recently because of this marriage she has, but we travel hopefully, the case makes itself, Ireland will be damaged by Brexit."

The South Belfast MLA said that if an agreement was not reached everyone would suffer.

"It's lose-lose. The British will lose. The European Union will lose and our job is to mitigate that loss," he said.

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