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DUP's Donaldson ‘hopeful’ Brexit deal can be agreed by fresh deadline

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Chris Hazzard
Donald Tusk
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier arrives at the European Commission for a meeting with EU ambassadors on the extension to the Brexit deadline
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A senior DUP figure has said he is optimistic that a deal can be hammered out to ensure the UK leaves the European Union by the new January 31 deadline.

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It comes after European Council president Donald Tusk said the EU27 would accept the UK's request for a Brexit "flextension", leaving Boris Johnson's pledge to exit by Thursday in tatters.

The Prime Minister has said in the past that he would prefer to be "dead in a ditch" than miss the October 31 deadline.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his party was disappointed that there wasn't a deal they could support due to the proposals of a customs border in the Irish Sea.

"We hope there can be progress on getting a deal that people can support," the Lagan Valley MP said.

"Obviously we would have preferred for Brexit to have occurred on October 31, but we can't proceed on the basis of what's on the table at the moment.

"I am hopeful that we can get a sensible outcome between now and January 31 that enables the UK as a whole to leave the EU."

Ulster Unionist leader-in-waiting Steve Aiken hopes the delay will mean that Mr Johnson's "despicable" Brexit deal would be properly scrutinised and left open to amendment.

"If the extension creates the opportunity for proper scrutiny of this deal which undermines the Union, then that can only be a good thing," he said.

"Everything possible should be done to remove the threat that this deal creates to the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom."

South Down Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard described the new deadline as another "extension of uncertainty", but it does provide a relief that the UK will not crash out of the EU this week.

"I think to a certain extent, it doesn't change a whole lot," he said.

"To a larger extent, I think it is a welcome fact that the European Union and the British Government managed to secure a deal a number of weeks ago. However, the British Parliament has been unable to pass that deal thus far. I think they are still consumed by party political interests."

The decision to grant the extension was taken at a meeting of ambassadors representing the 27 remaining EU member states in Brussels yesterday.

Mr Tusk tweeted: "The EU27 has agreed that it will accept the UK's request for a #Brexit flextension until 31 January 2020.

"The decision is expected to be formalised through a written procedure."

An EU source said under the draft European Council decision, the extension would last "only as long as necessary to allow for the ratification of the withdrawal agreement and, in any event, no longer than January 31, 2020".

The source added: "If the withdrawal agreement is ratified by both parties before this date, the withdrawal will take place on the first day of the month following the ratification.

"The United Kingdom will remain a member state until the new withdrawal date, with full rights and obligations, including the obligation to suggest a candidate for appointment as a member of the Commission.

"This extension excludes any re-opening of the withdrawal agreement."

The text will be submitted to the UK for agreement, before a written procedure is launched to adopt the decision - with the process likely to be concluded today or Wednesday, the source added.

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