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'No deal' better than border in Irish Sea, says DUP's Donaldson

DUP claims 'overplaying of its hand' by Dublin has hardened attitudes in London

By David Young

Northern Ireland would be better off with a hard Brexit than being separated from the UK by a border down the Irish Sea, a senior DUP MP said last night.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson set down a marker for the Prime Minister as pro-Leave Conservative rebels prepared to take on Theresa May this week over her much-criticised Brexit white paper.

 

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the Lagan Valley MP said: "We want to try to avoid a 'no deal' scenario.

"But if the alternative is a deal that involves an Irish Sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, or some similar scenario which would be disastrous for the Northern Ireland economy, then we would be better off with no deal, and operating under World Trade Organisation rules, even as a temporary arrangement.

"There are many countries around the world who operate under the World Trade Organisation rules.

"While that is far from our preferred outcome, we want to be clear that if the Irish Government think that the United Kingdom will relent on the whole issue of a border in the Irish Sea, they are gravely mistaken.

"No deal is better than a bad deal."

And Sir Jeffrey took aim at Dublin's stance on the issue of the border

"There is a growing sense at Westminster that the Irish Government are overplaying their hand in terms of the arrangements for the Irish border - and there is some push-back on that," he claimed.

"Of course we want to see what the legal text will be in terms of the Irish border and what arrangements are going to be made there.

"But we are very clear that there can be no border in the Irish Sea, and the Prime Minister has given a firm commitment on that.

"And that remains for us the absolute red line in these negotiations."

Sir Jeffrey's intervention comes as May faces an intensifying revolt by her own MPs, who are fiercely critical of the turn the Brexit negotiations have now taken.

Pro-Brexit Conservatives are preparing to rebel against the Prime Minister as early as tomorrow, when the Government's flagship Trade Bill comes before the House of Commons. Asked for his assessment of the strength of Mrs May's position as Prime Minister following the resignation of several senior ministers, and the publication of polls placing the Labour Party ahead of her Government, Sir Jeffrey declined to be drawn.

"There is no doubt that there are internal divisions within the Conservative Party on the Brexit negotiations," he said.

"Those are matters for the Conservative Party.

"We in the DUP are committed to our 'confidence and supply' agreement, and we will continue to work with whoever is the Prime Minister."

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