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We will bring down PM if Brexit deal does go through, claims Dodds

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

By our political Staff

A furious Nigel Dodds last night indicated the DUP would bring down Theresa May if her Brexit deal is voted through.

The Prime Minister's public and private commitments to Northern Ireland "lie in tatters", the DUP deputy leader said.

The DUP has set out how it will no longer support Mrs May - who depends on the DUP for her Commons majority - if her Brexit deal, including the controversial Northern Ireland backstop measure, survives.

That threat has bolstered Tory resistance to the Withdrawal Agreement, as Tory MPs fear if it goes through in the crunch vote on December 11 it could bring down their government.

The mounting problems for Mrs May come after the government was forced to publish legal advice offered to the Cabinet by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Mr Dodds said the legal opinion "is a devastating blow for the Prime Minister" and said the PM's "pledges have now been broken". He added: "A customs and regulatory border is precisely what the government now propose. The Prime Minister's public and private commitments lie in tatters."

Between them the Conservatives and DUP have the parliamentary numbers to resist a motion of no confidence.

Setting out his position, the DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said: "We will vote against her plan because it is bad for the United Kingdom, certainly bad for Northern Ireland given the legal advice that we have forced out of the government."

Labour has indicated it will table a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister in the wake of a defeat on such a pivotal issue.

Last night Mr Dodds encouraged Brexiteers to vote against PM's deal by saying its MPs would support the government in a confidence vote if the deal was rejected. He said if her Brexit deal is defeated it would be "somewhat illogical" - having seen off the Withdrawal Agreement - "to turn around the next day and say 'let's vote the government out'".

But he warned there would be "implications" if Mrs May pushed ahead with her plan, telling ITV's Peston: "That's the risk that the Prime Minister is running."

Even if there was not an election, the lack of a majority would make it difficult for the Tories to get any legislation through Parliament, including the bill to implement the Brexit deal.

The DUP's position was set out to Tory Brexiteers at a meeting of the European Research Group (ERG), led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Mr Rees-Mogg told the private meeting: "The DUP will support the government in a confidence motion if the Withdrawal Agreement is voted down. But the risk of losing them and having an election is if the Withdrawal Agreement goes through."

Sources at the ERG meeting described it as "full and frank" and "candid", with the Chief Whip left in no doubt about what would be required to win over would-be rebels.

One potential measure reportedly being floated as a way to win over would-be rebels is a "parliamentary lock" which would give MPs a vote before the Northern Irish backstop is implemented.

But Mr Dodds dismissed it, pointing out that "it doesn't have any effect" on the Withdrawal Agreement thrashed out with Brussels which contains the contentious measure.

The Attorney General's advice warned the backstop could result in the UK becoming stuck for many years in "protracted and repeating rounds of negotiations" with no lawful power to exit. And it made clear that Brussels could apply to an arbitration panel for Northern Ireland to remain in the EU customs area while the rest of the UK left.

Mr Cox found that the protocol setting out the terms of the backstop, which aims to prevent a hard Irish border, "does not provide for a mechanism that is likely to enable the UK lawfully to exit the UK-wide customs union without a subsequent agreement".

"This remains the case even if parties are still negotiating many years later and even if the parties believe that talks have clearly broken down and there is no prospect of a future relationship agreement," he added.

Under the arrangements, "for regulatory purposes, GB is essentially treated as a third country by NI for goods passing from GB into NI", he said.

"This means regulatory checks would have to take place between NI and GB, normally at airports or ports, although the EU now accepts that many of these could be conducted away from the border." And he said that the protocol would "endure indefinitely" under international law until another agreement takes its place.

It is understood that EU leaders are prepared to offer Mrs May a lifeline by offering to extend the Article 50 process - and postponing Brexit beyond March - if she asks them to at the two-day summit next week.

Earlier, business and civic leaders from Northern Ireland - including Manufacturing NI, NI Meat Exporters Association and the Ulster Farmers' Union - addressed MPs on the deal.

Afterwards, the Secretary of State announced £700,000 of funding for the Co Antrim-based life sciences company Randox. She said it will pay for the research and development of cutting-edge technology to enable diagnostic tools to be manufactured more quickly and effectively.

"Eventually, this will lead to more manufacturing jobs as a result," she wrote in today's Belfast Telegraph.

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