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DUP accuses EU of intransigence over refusal to renegotiate deal


Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May
DUP MP Nigel Dodds
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and EU president Jean-Claude Juncker look on during a session of parliament at the EU headquarters

By Suzanne Breen, political editor

The DUP is calling on the EU to stop "burying its head in the sand" and start renegotiating the withdrawal agreement with the Prime Minister.

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MEP Diane Dodds was speaking after Theresa May's plans to reopen talks to rewrite the deal met fierce resistance from Brussels.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker described the agreement as "the best and only deal possible".

He told MEPs in the European Parliament: "The debate and votes in the House of Commons yesterday do not change that. The withdrawal agreement will not be renegotiated."

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the backstop was "part and parcel" of the agreement and nobody had detailed the "alternative arrangements" that London was seeking to replace it with.

On Tuesday the Prime Minister succeeded in uniting the Tories behind a plan to renegotiate the draft agreement to address concerns about the backstop, securing a 16-strong House of Commons majority.

Mrs Dodds said: "The EU may be burying its head in the sand, but there is no path to ratifying a final Brexit deal without legally enforceable changes to the draft withdrawal agreement.

"Mr Barnier cannot paper over the cracks emerging in the EU position. National leaders across Europe are beginning to realise that the single-track focus on the backstop may in fact lead to the very outcome it set out to avoid.

"To insist on a proposal which is not deliverable in the UK shows intransigence.

"We say calmly and clearly to the EU leadership that we do not need the backstop. It is now time for a sensible and pragmatic renegotiation."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds urged the Irish government to "tone down the rhetoric" and work towards a "sensible deal" that avoided a hard border.

He described some of Dublin's comments as "reckless" and said while the withdrawal agreement was not acceptable to unionists, with "renewed focus" a consensus which worked for everyone was possible.

But Sinn Fein urged the EU not to budge over the backstop.

The party held several meetings on Brexit at Westminster yesterday.

Francie Molloy MP said: "We met today with the British Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, to discuss the ongoing Brexit crisis in the British parliament and reiterated our position that the backstop is not open for renegotiation.

"We also met with the British Labour party's Shadow Secretary of State, Tony Lloyd, to convey the same message. At both engagements we made it absolutely clear that the British Parliament cannot tear up or alter the Irish backstop."

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken said the backstop was incompatible with the principle of consent. He also challenged the claim by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford that Mrs May had ripped up the Good Friday Agreement.

"The UUP will take no lessons from anyone when it comes to the Belfast Agreement," Mr Aiken said. "We negotiated it, so we are well placed to know what it says.

"Of key importance to unionism was the principle of consent being enshrined. That means there can be no change to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the majority of people in Northern Ireland."

But SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley praised the SNP politician.

"The DUP ignored the voices of people here once again, so much so it took an SNP MP to remind the those on the benches of Westminster of the reality of their decision," she said.

"It is equally as frustrating that Sinn Fein, who have no difficulty turning up for media interviews, refused to use their mandate where and when it counted."

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "The EU can parrot as often as it likes that the deal is done, but the legal reality is very different: there is no deal until it is ratified and the UK has rightly refused ratification.

"If, therefore, the EU persists in refusing further negotiations, then, it will be the EU that guarantees no deal. Their choice.

"The job of Brexiteers in Parliament and elsewhere, in the name of 17.4m people, is now to ensure the Government at last holds the line and calls the EU's bluff.

"Mrs May will be judged by delivery on her pledge of real change to the legal text of the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

"If the EU chooses no deal, then so be it."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The EU had said it was seeking clarity - there had been suggestions that the backstop was not the main issue of concern, which had originated in Brussels.

"I think a clear message was given by the House of Commons that the backstop is the concern which MPs have, and that if we can find a way to address those concerns, there is a stable majority for getting support for the deal in Parliament."

Mrs May yesterday met privately with Jeremy Corbyn to discuss the way ahead.

A Labour spokesman said it was "a useful exchange of views", the tone of the talks was "serious and engaged", and the pair had agreed to meet again.

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