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DUP shuns Brexit alternatives to May's proposal during another day of stalemate

Theresa May and her party colleagues at the Commons yesterday
Theresa May and her party colleagues at the Commons yesterday
Nigel Dodds
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP voted against all four alternatives to the Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement as MPs failed to reach a consensus on a Brexit option last night.

For the second time in a week, no motion received a clear majority in the House of Commons.

Two of the motions would have succeeded had the DUP backed them so the decision by the party's 10 MPs to oppose them was hugely significant.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told UTV that if the issue of the backstop was addressed "we would be in business".

European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: "The House of Commons again votes against all options. A hard Brexit becomes nearly inevitable. On Wednesday, the UK has a last chance to break the deadlock or face the abyss."

The Ulster Unionists said the DUP could not "abdicate its responsibility in this farcical situation". The party accused its rival of "attempting to close the stable door after the horse carrying the backstop has bolted".

A proposal from former Chancellor and Tory grandee Kenneth Clarke for a customs union arrangement with the EU was rejected by just three votes.

A demand for a second referendum was defeated by 12 votes.

A Norway-style deal put forward by Tory MP Nick Boles by 21. He immediately declared he would no longer sit as a Conservative, blaming the party for refusing to compromise on a means of leaving the EU.

Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay told MPs that the default outcome was now a no-deal Brexit on April 12, but said it was still possible to leave with a deal - and avoid holding European Parliament elections in May - if the Commons approves an agreement this week.

Cabinet will meet today for five hours to thrash out a way forward. Mr Barclay told MPs: "This House has continuously rejected leaving without a deal, just as it has rejected not leaving at all. Therefore the only option is to find a way through which allows the UK to leave with a deal. The Government continues to believe that the best course to take is to do so as soon as possible."

SNP MP Joanna Cherry's proposal to give MPs the power to block a no-deal Brexit by voting to revoke Article 50 was rejected by a margin of 101 votes.

UUP leader Robin Swann said: "This whole Brexit process has been handled shambolically from the very start and the outcome of (these) votes are symptoms of the pitiful negotiating positions adopted by the UK's government and its ineffectual partners in the face of EU and Irish government intransigence.

"If we're not careful there is the very real possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a sensible deal."

Mr Swann continued: "The DUP can't abdicate its responsibility in this farcical situation. They are attempting to close the stable door after the horse carrying the backstop has bolted.

"I hope for Northern Ireland's sake, and our place within the UK, that the Withdrawal Agreement containing the backstop, does not now slip through as the hard Brexiteer allies of the DUP jump ship to rescue their ideologically pure Brexit at the expense of the integrity of the UK.

"The DUP had repeated opportunities to stop this and they missed them. It's time they stopped putting their party first and started putting the Union first."

DUP leader Arlene Foster earlier denied reports that seven of her 10 MPs backed the Withdrawal Agreement and the party was divided on the way forward.

"No, there's no splits within the Democratic Unionist Party," she said.

"I'm not quite sure where that's coming from."

When pressed on her party's possible support for a softer Brexit, she said: "We have a very simple way of judging all this, it's what will protect the Union and what will respect the referendum result and that's always been our position.

"We have been very clear about our one red line and that remains the position. It's of no surprise to anyone that the Union will always be our first priority and that still remains the case."

Asked if she would prefer staying in the EU compared to Mrs May's Brexit plan, she replied: "We do not like the current Withdrawal Agreement - I think everyone is very much aware of that - and the reason we don't like it is because of the backstop issue.

"The fact that it separates Northern Ireland out from the rest of the UK puts an internal border within the UK and makes us subject to rules and regulations which the rest of the UK will not be subject to, without having any say in those rules and regulations."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was "disappointing" that no Brexit solution had secured a majority, but the margin on the Clarke motion was "very narrow indeed" compared with three "overwhelming" defeats for Mrs May's deal.

Business leaders were scathing over the continued failure of MPs to agree a way forward on Brexit.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: "Parliamentarians are playing a reckless game of chicken which will end in disaster unless enough MPs can be persuaded to back a clear outcome which avoids a chaotic no-deal Brexit."

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