Belfast Telegraph

Brexit deal 'a great step forward' and within spirit of Good Friday Agreement, says David Trimble

Sammy Wilson says PM shouldn't be surprised DUP will not vote for deal

Former UUP leader Lord Trimble
Former UUP leader Lord Trimble
Sammy Wilson said his party has already met with Conservative MPs to encourage them to back the DUP's position.

By Eimear McGovern

Former Northern Ireland First Minister and former leader of the UUP David Trimble has backed Boris Johnson's Brexit deal, describing it as a "great step forward".

It comes after the DUP described the deal as "toxic" and driving a "coach and horses" through the Good Friday Agreement.

Lord Trimble was one of the key negotiators of the Belfast Agreement. Along with SDLP leader John Hume, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to peace in Northern Ireland.

Lord Trimble said the deal brokered between the EU and the UK was within the spirit of the 1998 peace accord.

"Whilst, previously, the people of Northern Ireland were to have an agreement imposed on them, now we have a mechanism for the consent of the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

"This is fully in accordance with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

"What we now want to see is for the DUP and Sinn Fein to act together to bring the Good Friday Agreement back to life.  This is not the time to be looking for excuses not to implement either the Good Friday Agreement or the new deal."

His former UUP colleague, Lord Kilclooney, however, said he disagreed with his assessment saying he felt he had "misunderstood" the Good Friday Agreement. He said the deal was a "significant step toward a united Ireland".

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed the agreement "eroded and diminished" the principle of consent and safeguards in the Good Friday Agreement.

"This is a worrying development because it has consequences, not only for how we handle Brexit but also consequences for the restoration of the political institutions."

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David Trimble, John Hume and U2’s Bono celebrate the 1998 Agreement together

The agreement brokered between the UK Government and the EU effectively puts a border down the Irish Sea and treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson MP said Boris Johnson's "shouldn't be surprised" the party's 10 MPs won't be voting for the deal when MPs are asked to approve it on Saturday.

He said the Prime Minister's pride should not come before the best Brexit deal for the United Kingdom.

"This is an All-Ireland solution which will tie us tighter and tighter to the Irish economy than the UK economy. Sinn Fein will never vote to leave that... by going to the majority voting system, rather than the cross-community voting system, they will now have a veto which they will use," Mr Wilson told talkRADIO.

"Even if it was disadvantageous to the Northern Ireland economy, if it helped Sinn Fein towards their long term political gain of a united Ireland, they will vote for it."

Mr Wilson said the DUP sought to give Boris Johnson "as much latitude" in the negotiations with the EU as possible, but that he has not honoured his promises to them.

"We did seek to facilitate and give the prime minister as much latitude in the negotiations as possible by saying that we would accept regulatory alignment for a period with the EU but the safeguard was that the Northern Ireland Assembly would be able to vote to change that arrangement if it was seen to be damaging to the econmy.

"He has not honoured the pledges he made to us. He sought flexibility from us and the other side of the bargain was that he would ensure that Northern Ireland would come out on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom," he said.

Boris Johnson faces an uphill struggle to get support for his agreement in the Commons. Intensive behind-the-scenes efforts are ongoing to win over ERG members, Tory rebels who lost the whip, and Labour MPs in Leave constituencies.

He said he was "very confident" the Commons would back his deal in the vote despite not having the support of the DUP's 10 MPs.

Interests of Ireland will not be central to whatever is discussed in the House of Commons. SF's Conor Murphy.

Sinn Fein has said it will not alter its abstentionist policy in order to vote in the Commons on the deal. MLA Conor Murphy said the party welcomed the agreement being made and praised the work of the Irish Government .

"While there are undoubtedly concerns around some of the detail, a deal is better than no deal," he said.

"The interests of Ireland will not be central to whatever is discussed in the House of Commons, it'll be about political power plays in London and who can get into power and outdo the other. Ireland will not feature very strongly in any of that.

"[The Irish Government] has ensured that Europe has stayed very solidly with them and that has been a triumph for them, I acknowledge that.

"They know as we do that the idea of a deal is mitigating against the worst effects of Brexit."

Mr Murphy rejected the DUP argument the new deal drove "a coach and horses" through the Good Friday Agreement by offering a simple majority vote on EU alignment.

"The reality is that the consent principle in the Good Friday Agreement is a majority vote, its 50% plus one. There is no particular requirement for a vote such as this, which is a reserve matter, to have parallel consent," he added.

Sammy Wilson said his party has already met with Conservative MPs to encourage them to back his party's position.

"We will be encouraging [Conservative MPs] to take the stance they always said they would take and protect the union and vote with us."

He said voting for the Withdrawal Agreement would support "siphoning us off from the rest of the UK" and argued it would mean businesses in Northern Ireland incurring "additional costs and administrative burdens".

The East Antrim MP argued that a successful election could help Mr Johnson get a better deal.

"I believe, with a big majority, he can be more robust in his negotiations," Mr Wilson said.

"It is one of the reasons why we believe that voting this down tomorrow is not the end of the game but in fact probably opens up possibilities for the Government that are not available at present but will be after a general election."

Mr Wilson said he suspected the EU were not able to give Mr Johnson as many concessions due to worries the PM was "vulnerable" in Parliament, following the success of the Benn Act.

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