Belfast Telegraph

Brexit: Ex-Tory leader Hague warns DUP over no-deal

William Hague has issued a warning to the DUP (Dan Kitwood/PA)
William Hague has issued a warning to the DUP (Dan Kitwood/PA)
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Former Conservative Party leader William Hague has warned the DUP that if Brexit ends in "no-deal" they will look back on a pivotal moment and realise they “needed a deal more than they ever knew”.

Mr Hague said a simple solution would lead to a breakthrough and that was for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the DUP’s Arlene Foster to take former Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal with a “time limit on the Irish backstop”.

“These three leaders are not currently on course to make a deal, although they all need one more desperately than they would like to admit,” said Mr Hague, writing in the Daily Telegraph.

“For Boris, not reaching agreement means fighting an election advocating a no-deal Brexit or perhaps, by some slim chance or crafty manoeuvre in the final days of October, having accomplished it. Neither is attractive for anyone wanting to be confident of winning a Conservative majority.

“The DUP’s need is even more pressing. They are on the verge of achieving the most rapid destruction of their own core objective to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

“A no-deal outcome would bring forward dramatically the day when Sinn Fein beats them in an election and a “border poll” takes place.

“Perhaps recognising this danger, the DUP have now agreed that Northern Ireland could stay within the orbit of EU regulations after Brexit, but only subject to the renewed consent of the Stormont assembly every four years. Since they could then vote to leave that arrangement anyway, if the assembly could ever agree to meet, it is not surprising that this does not go down well on the other side.

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“It would be in their own interests to make a further concession – that any future departure from single market rules would require, just like the formation of an Executive in Belfast, the agreement of both nationalist and loyalist communities.

“If Mrs Foster could bring herself to make that crucial move, then the third decision maker, Leo Varadkar, would face a much more finely balanced judgment.

“No deal brings for Dublin the very outcome they have striven to avoid all along – the imposition of customs checks on the island of Ireland. They might choose to gamble that refusing a deal will result in a change of government and a reversal of the 2016 outcome in a new referendum, but that is a very risky bet. It would be in their interests, if the “consent” issue were resolved in their favour, to summon the political will to work with London on how to make a customs arrangement work.

“There is, therefore, a perfectly rational agreement to be made. Yet the chances of it happening are low and the time available is now very short. But it is also because so much time has elapsed since the referendum: Irish leaders have spent so long saying that any customs checks are incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement that they have persuaded themselves of it; the DUP have got so used to digging in they have lost the ability to dig themselves out.

“In negotiations bogged down and blocked by complexity, it is sometimes a simple solution that leads to the breakthrough.

“There is just one of those available – to take Theresa May’s deal but add a time limit on the Irish backstop. That would involve a major climbdown by all three players, but could be implemented with a single sentence.”

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