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Brexit: Sammy Wilson hints DUP will back Letwin amendment as Johnson's deal hangs in the balance

DUP MPs Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, and Sammy Wilson listen as Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a statement in the House of Commons
DUP MPs Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, and Sammy Wilson listen as Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a statement in the House of Commons
Demonstrators march with an effigy depicting Boris Johnson as a puppet operated by his advisor Dominic Cummings during a rally by the People's Vote organisation in central London on October 19, 2019
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson has said his party would be "failing in its duty" if it did not use all means at its disposal to change Boris Johnson's Brexit deal.

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The East Antrim MP, addressing the House of Commons, argued the Prime Minister's deal would economically separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and cause damage to the UK's internal market. During an impassioned speech, Mr Wilson argued that Boris Johnson's deal would effectively create a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and Britain.

When asked to address the Letwin amendment, which would force the PM to seek an extension, Mr Wilson hinted that the DUP will use it as leverage to seek concessions from the government.

He said: "We would be failing in our duty if we do not use every strategy which is available to try and get guarantees, changes and alterations which will safeguard the interests of the UK, the interest of our constituents and the interests that we represent."

Mr Wilson said the deal would do a "great deal of damage to the Union", adding that it would put a legal, customs and economic border between NI and the economy on which "we depend".

DUP MP Nigel Dodds also called on Boris Johnson to "reconsider" his Brexit deal and ensure that the UK leaves the European Union as "one nation together".

The north Belfast MP said that the weariness of the House over Brexit should not be an excuse for "weakness on Brexit" or "weakness on the union".

He added that there must be "Brexit for the whole of the United Kingdom", leaving the single market and customs union as one.

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"This deal puts Northern Ireland, yes, in the UK customs union but applies de facto all the EU customs code, it also puts us in the VAT regime, it also puts us in the single market regime for a large part of goods and agri-food, without an consent upfront.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds

"Contrary to the agreement made in December 2017 which said that only regulatory difference could happen with consent of the executive and assembly. It drives a coach and horses through the Belfast Agreement by altering the cross community consent mechanism."

Mr Dodds then alluded to previous warnings from Mr Johnson about how no British PM could agree to such terms, adding: "Will he now abide by that and please reconsider the fact that we must leave as one nation together?"

The DUP has pledged to vote against the deal.

Mr Johnson, replying to Mr Dodds, said together he and the DUP secured changes on the customs union before defending the measures in the deal for Northern Ireland.

He said: "In all frankness I do think it a pity that it is thought necessary for one side or the other in the debate in Northern Ireland to have a veto on those arrangements.

"Because after all, I must be very frank about this, the people of this country have taken a great decision embracing the entire four nations of this country by a simple majority vote that went 52-48, which we're honouring now.

Paul McGann (second left) and Sir Patrick Stewart (third left) join protesters in an anti-Brexit, Let Us Be Heard march (Andrew Matthews/PA)

"I think that principle should be applied elsewhere and I see no reason why it should not be applied in Northern Ireland, and it is in full compatibility with the Good Friday Agreement."

Mr Dodds also asked whether the Government’s support for a majority vote at Stormont on Northern Ireland’s consent to its customs arrangements in the future meant the end of vetoes in the Assembly.

He added: “Can we now take it that the policy of the Government is to do away with vetoes, for instance, about getting the Assembly up and running? Four out of the five parties in Northern Ireland want it up and running?”

(Yui Mok/PA)

Responding, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said: “This is about a reserved matter that applies to our international agreements as a United Kingdom and not the powers that sit with the Assembly within the Good Friday agreement. And that is why there wasn’t a willingness to give one community a power of veto over the other.”

Mr Dodds rejected this assessment, adding: “It is simply not true to say that agriculture and manufactured goods and so on are reserved matters. These are matters devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. This is just not correct. Please do not use that argument.”

Some Labour politicians also took exception after Mr Barclay made reference to former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam in his statement on the deal.

With Parliament sitting on Saturday for the first time in 37 years, the Prime Minister said the agreement he struck in Brussels represented “the best possible solution”.

However he faces the prospect of further deadlock in the Commons, with opposition parties threatening to withhold approval until legislation to implement the deal is in place.

The architect of the plan, former cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin, said it was simply an “insurance policy” to ensure the UK could not “crash out” of the EU without a deal on October 31.

With many of his fellow MPs who had the Tory whip withdrawn expected to back the amendment, the Government is facing a strong possibility of defeat.

If they lose, it is expected that ministers will simply order Conservative MPs to go home without voting on the main motion to back the deal.

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