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Shambles over Brexit backstop down to the DUP and Boris: Empey

By Mark Bain

The blame for the "Brexit debacle" must be laid firmly at the feet of the DUP and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, according to the chairman of the Ulster Unionists.

Lord Empey said they had the chance to bin the backstop in December 2017 but failed to take that opportunity - and they should now apologise for the mess they've created.

He was speaking after EU leaders yesterday approved an agreement on the UK's withdrawal and future relations.

After 20 months of negotiations, the leaders of the 27 EU countries gave the deal their blessing after less than an hour's discussion, insisting it was the "best and only deal possible".

But Mr Johnson told Saturday's DUP conference that the Government was on the verge of making an "historic mistake" if it did not "junk the backstop" and insisted the EU had made Northern Ireland an "indispensable bargaining chip" in the Brexit negotiations.

The backstop means Northern Ireland would stay in the customs union and much of the single market, guaranteeing a friction-free border with the Republic if a solution isn't found by December 2020.

Both the UK and EU signed up to the basic idea in December 2017 as part of the initial Brexit deal.

But Lord Empey said: "The DUP and Boris Johnson are a day late and a dollar short.

"They should have binned the backstop a year ago when they had the chance. Arlene Foster claimed at the time that Northern Ireland would not be separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory from the rest of the United Kingdom.

"And she said it was clear that in all circumstances the United Kingdom would continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland's businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.

"Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary at the time and even tweeted his congratulations to the Prime Minister in December 2017. Both he and the DUP share responsibility in this debacle. Chest-beating rhetoric is not going to solve the crisis which they have helped create by failing to grasp the significance of the backstop. The DUP should apologise and so should Boris.

"And then they should ensure that the backstop never makes it through Parliament, or else Northern Ireland will be sitting on the edge of the Union and Scottish Nationalists will be rejuvenated and planning Scotland's exit."

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said the decision by the Government to impose "this unwanted Brexit against the will of the people in the North" was fundamentally wrong.

"It was undemocratic and will hamper the economy, agreements and restrict the rights of citizens," she said.

"The agreement endorsed between the EU27 and the British Government does not resolve Brexit. It is the least worst option - there is no good Brexit.

"It must be clear that under no scenario will there be a hardening of the border in Ireland or the abandonment of the Good Friday Agreement."

And Alliance Brexit spokesman Stephen Farry MLA said the agreement on the withdrawal deal "is not a moment for celebration".

Dr Farry said the backstop must be the "bare minimum" for the way forward, and cannot be diluted or negotiated downwards.

"There is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit. The conclusion of the withdrawal agreement is not a moment of celebration but profound sadness," he said.

"However, this withdrawal agreement represents the best deal the UK is going to get.

"For Alliance, the backstop itself is absolutely vital to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to avoid a hard border. The notion of the negotiations being reopened to ditch the backstop is delusional. The time to renegotiate before next March doesn't exist.

"At the very least, the backstop now needs to be banked. The economic and constitutional arguments being deployed against it are entirely spurious. The future for this deal remains uncertain, but a no deal situation must be avoided at all costs."

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