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Donaldson dismisses Brexit U-turn claims as DUP throws weight behind Johnson's new plan

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Peter Hain
Michelle O'Neill
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

The DUP's Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has rejected claims his party is guilty of a U-turn over the Prime Minister's Brexit plan.

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The Lagan Valley MP was speaking after Boris Johnson revealed details of his proposal to the European Union.

It includes the removal of the controversial backstop and the creation of an all-Ireland regulatory zone covering goods including agrifood.

"I welcome what the Prime Minister had to say and the proposals that are now before the EU," Sir Jeffrey said.

"We have stuck rigidly to our position. Anyone who has read paragraph 50 of the December 2017 joint statement will be able to see that we have been entirely consistent."

That joint UK-EU report on Brexit outlined a commitment to ensure that no new regulatory barriers would be established between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The DUP has throughout the process opposed a border down the Irish Sea.

The party said in a statement it had always indicated that the UK must leave the EU as one nation, with no internal trade barriers erected.

"This proposal would ensure that Northern Ireland would be out of the EU customs union and the single market, as with the rest of the United Kingdom," it added.

A DUP spokesperson said the proposal provided a basis for the EU to continue in "a serious and sustained engagement" with the UK, without risk to its internal market. "It (the plan) will require changes to the draft withdrawal treaty and we welcome the fact that all sides now recognise that requirement in order to secure agreement," they added.

The spokesperson also claimed that Mr Johnson's proposal was "entirely consistent" with the spirit and principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

However Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said the Prime Minister's plan "drove a coach and horses" through the peace process.

"The DUP are on the wrong side of the Brexit argument - they have been from day one," she added.

"They have hitched their wagon to the Tories.

"They have continually (and) actively worked against the interests of the people who live on this island.

"The position they have adopted in the last 24 hours is further evidence of that."

SDLP MLA and Brexit spokesperson Daniel McCrossan said the Prime Minister's deal had been "designed to be rejected".

"Anyone with a brain can decipher that if the EU's position is that there should be no border in Ireland, they will not accept two borders," he stressed.

"This is a proposal that is designed to be rejected so that Boris Johnson can pretend to have negotiated seriously. He has not."

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Hain said the proposal was "full of holes" and did nothing to avoid border checks, which are a legal requirement on EU frontiers.

"It's riddled with contradictions and I can't help but draw the conclusion that this is a cynical ploy," he added.

"What it does, in an underhand way, is effectively pass the buck to the Irish government and the EU to impose border controls."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, meanwhile, described the "unacceptable" proposal as "dead on arrival" and said the majority of MLAs and business leaders opposed what he sees as the creation of two borders.

"The brass neck of the DUP should come as no surprise," Mr Eastwood added.

The nationalist MLA said he had written to opposition leaders in Westminster including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, urging them to take an "unprecedented course of action" and remove Mr Johnson from office.

He urged MPs to install a temporary Prime Minister to extend the Brexit deadline and call a general election.

South Down MLA Jim Wells said he believed the DUP would be happy with the plan.

"I think there'll be a general satisfaction within the party about what has been achieved," said Mr Wells, who no longer holds the DUP whip.

"Crucially, we won't be entering anything without the Assembly on a cross-community basis voting for it.

"Secondly, after four years it has to be renewed on a cross-community basis.

"I think that's a very important double lock."

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