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DUP willing to back Boris Johnson's Brexit deal 'if changes carried out'

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Mary Lou McDonald

By Gillian Halliday

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he believes changes can still be made to Boris Johnson's Brexit deal to gain the DUP's support in time for the October 31 deadline.

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The senior party figure last night pledged the DUP will continue discussions with the Government after the Prime Minister's bid to push ahead with his deal was derailed on Saturday.

"We'll be back in Westminster (today) and we'll be engaging with the Government in the next 24 hours on how we move this forward," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

The DUP's 10 votes proved critical after Parliament voted by 322 to 306 in favour of an amendment withholding approval of Mr Johnson's Brexit deal until legislation to implement it was in place.

After suffering the embarrassing defeat, Mr Johnson was forced to send a letter to the EU asking for more time, which he left unsigned. However, Sir Jeffrey said there is still an opportunity for the DUP - which last week rejected the PM's new Brexit deal - to back it if changes are made.

The DUP believes the deal in its current form would put a legal, customs and economic border down the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and Britain.

It is also opposed to the proposed consent mechanism, which would give the Assembly a say on whether or not to continue following EU customs rules, but would not give the DUP a veto.

"We would like to get a deal we can support so the UK can leave by October 31 but clearly time is short," Sir Jeffrey said.

"We will need the Government to bring forward changes that address our concerns in the context of the legislation Parliament will be considering. The legislation on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill provides an opportunity for the Government to make some changes to address our concerns.

"We're obviously looking at the options available to us in relation to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and we'll see where that takes us over the next few days as Parliament considers the draft legislation."

He also rejected accusations the DUP, which is in a confidence and supply voting agreement with the Tories, had effectively betrayed Mr Johnson for his breaking a 'promise' not to put a border down the Irish Sea.

"We believe what we did (last Saturday) was in the best interests of Northern Ireland," he insisted.

His comments were reiterated by East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, who said delivering a Brexit that works for Northern Ireland remains a priority for the party.

"We want to leave as one nation. That remains our goal," the DUP Brexit spokesman said yesterday.

"If the Prime Minister remains willing to achieve that outcome he will find DUP MPs as willing partners in that project.

"The people of the United Kingdom were asked whether the UK should leave the EU, not whether Great Britain should leave Northern Ireland behind."

He refuted media speculation the DUP would back a second Brexit referendum.

"The DUP does not seek a second referendum, merely implementation of the first," Mr Wilson said.

Labour meanwhile issued an "open invite" to the DUP for talks about the possibility of amending crucial Brexit legislation. Appearing yesterday on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said Labour would be willing to work with the DUP.

"I would openly invite the DUP to talk to us because anybody who wants to improve on the situation like they do should be working together. So I say to any MP, any party, the DUP in particular, if you want to work with us on this to improve the situation we are in, our door is open to that discussion," he said.

The latest Brexit developments have been slammed by the main nationalist parties, with SDLP Brexit spokesperson Daniel McCrossan insisting this week will prove crucial as the Government seeks to have a "meaningful vote" on Mr Johnson's deal.

"This weekend's developments have provided no more clarity for business or for anyone living along the border," he said. "I do not believe that Boris's deal is perfect, nor do I have great confidence that he will achieve a majority in a meaningful vote. But this deal does look favourably on the north and our interests and special status must be protected regardless of the outcome in parliament this coming week."

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald branded the Westminster vote as the latest example of "more farce and dysfunction in the British 'House of Chaos'".

She said the outcome of the vote would not allay the fears of Irish workers, business or agri-foods producers and border communities.

"The majority of the people of the north did not consent to Brexit. It is being foisted on them against their democratic wishes... (We) will continue to work to defend Ireland from the worst impacts of Brexit and ensure there will be no hard border, no unionist veto and that the Good Friday Agreement will be protected."

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