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PM's deal is fatally flawed and has to be renegotiated, insists DUP leader

Bradley's letter dismissed by Foster

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington with Patricia O’Hagan, CEO of Core Systems, during a visit to Core Systems in Belfast yesterday
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington with Patricia O’Hagan, CEO of Core Systems, during a visit to Core Systems in Belfast yesterday
Brandon Lewis (right) meeting the Institute of Directors at Dale Farm headquarters

By David Young and Ryan McAleer

Arlene Foster last night called on the Prime Minister to go back to Brussels and negotiate a better deal.

The DUP leader went on the attack after Secretary of State Karen Bradley penned an open letter insisting Mrs May's proposed agreement was no threat to Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom.

With the pressure mounting ahead of Tuesday's crunch vote at Westminster, two ministers, David Lidington and Brandon Lewis, arrived in the province to bolster support for the Prime Minister.

And in her letter published below, Mrs Bradley again sought to convince unionists of the merits of the deal.

"The agreement upholds the Belfast Agreement in all its parts, including the consent principle over Northern Ireland's place within our Union," Mrs Bradley writes.

"It ensures people and businesses that rely on an open border can continue living their lives and operating as they do now.

"In short, we have secured an outcome for Northern Ireland that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and a customs border down the Irish Sea."

But in a hard-hitting statement, Mrs Foster rejected the Secretary of State's claims, saying: "This letter fails to deal with the fatal flaws in the Withdrawal Agreement.

"Indeed, it doesn't even address the flaws raised by the Attorney General.

"Rather than writing letters or sending a roadshow to NI for 90 minutes, I would prefer the PM would go to Brussels and stand up to the EU and seek fundamental changes to the Withdrawal Agreement," Mrs Foster said.

"This deal breaches key commitments made to us, by the Prime Minister, about protecting the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.

"The Chancellor says the backstop is bad for the economy and Union.

"The PM doesn't like it and the Attorney General has warned Cabinet that it's a trap.

"Unionists in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK are united against this dangerous deal.

"This letter won't fool anyone who has read the Withdrawal Treaty."

The former First Minister's broadside came after visits to Belfast businesses by the two senior Government figures Mr Lidington and the Conservative party chairman, Mr Lewis.

Mr Lewis, who sits in Theresa May's Cabinet, met members of the Institute of Directors (IOD) at Dale Farm's Belfast headquarters.

Declan Billington, chief executive of animal feeds manufacturer Thompsons, said the firms present, representing the energy, agri-food and financial services sectors, were united in saying that a no-deal Brexit cannot be considered.

"We made it very clear to him the consequences on the Northern Ireland economy and people's livelihoods of a no-deal exit."

Mr Billington spoke of a disconnect in GB that he said has failed to understand the issues facing Northern Ireland businesses in a hard Brexit.

"There's a disconnect in not fully appreciating the extent to which businesses assess it as critically damaging, terminal to a number of them, small and large.

"All I see from Parliament is the risk that several camps will shoot each other's proposals down, and with everyone ruling out everyone else's position and by default, we stumble into a no deal. We're rapidly losing the last remaining time to put something in place that avoids a hard exit," he said.

Mr Lidington warned that the Prime Minister's Brexit deal was the only one available - but said the party's 'confidence and supply' agreement with the DUP would continue regardless.

The Government is expected to lose next week's vote by a considerable margin, but has added an amendment in the hope of bringing the DUP and Conservative backbenchers back on-side.

The change would give Parliament and a future Stormont Assembly a say in activating a backstop for the Irish border, but the proposal has already been rejected by the DUP as legislative "tinkering".

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