Belfast Telegraph

DUP may vote down budget if PM crosses Brexit red lines

Theresa May has urged MPs across the Commons to act in the national interest and back a Brexit deal.

Democratic Unionist MPs who prop up Theresa May’s Government are preparing to vote against her Budget if the Prime Minister breaks their Brexit red lines.

The radical move is one of the options being considered by the DUP if attempts to nail down a deal with Brussels include any proposals that would leave Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the UK, the Press Association understands.

Losing the party’s support in the Commons would mean possible defeat on the budget and a no-confidence vote.

In a move seen by some as a warning shot, DUP MPs failed to back the Government in voting against a Labour amendment to an Agriculture Bill outlining post-Brexit reforms on Wednesday night. Despite their abstention, it was still defeated by 59 votes.

The development came as former foreign secretary Boris Johnson warned that a “backstop” arrangement for Northern Ireland being negotiated by the Government would leave the UK “a permanent EU colony”.

In a series of tweets, Mr Johnson said that the deal would keep the UK in the customs union and Northern Ireland in the single market, and would mean increased checks on goods travelling between the province and the British mainland.

Repeating his call for Mrs May to ditch the plan agreed at her country residence in July, he said: “In the referendum both sides said Leave meant leaving the customs union and single market. Yet this backstop inevitably means Chequers, staying in both, no say in either, and no right to escape.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted on Tuesday that her party would not accept customs or regulatory checks on goods travelling in either direction between Northern Ireland and Great Britain after meeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels.

Following talks on Wednesday with European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt, she said: “The EU wants a one-way turnstile from GB and one-way rules from Brussels.

“We will not burden future generations with a deal which diminishes Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom.”

A DUP spokesman said: “The Government is well aware of our position on this issue. Our position hasn’t changed and we don’t expect the Government will change its position.”

Mr Barnier told a business audience in Brussels that agreement on a withdrawal deal was “within reach” at the crunch October 17-18 summit of the European Council, with “80-85%” of the accord now finalised.

But he made clear that the EU envisages a deal involving new customs and regulatory checks on goods travelling from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland, including health and sanitary inspections for 100% of animals and animal products arriving in ports like Larne and Belfast from the rest of the UK.

Mr Barnier said checks would be carried out “in the least intrusive way possible”, adding: “I understand why such procedures are politically sensitive but … Brexit was not our choice, it is the choice of the UK. Our proposal tries to help the UK in managing the negative fallout of Brexit in Northern Ireland in a way that respects the territorial integrity of the UK.”

The DUP has 10 MPs, although Ian Paisley will not be able to vote in the Commons until November 20 after being suspended for failing to declare two family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

Downing Street insisted that defeat on the budget would not amount to a vote of no confidence in the Government under the terms of the legislation which provides for fixed-term, five-year parliaments.

“The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act sets out the circumstances for a confidence vote,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

Senior Cabinet ministers are to gather in Downing Street on Thursday for the latest in a series of briefings on the state of negotiations, though it is not expected that any fresh decisions will be made at the meeting. The Government has said it will publish revised proposals for the Irish border “in due course”.

Mrs May, meanwhile, urged MPs across the Commons to act in the national interest and back a Brexit deal amid warnings that “decisive” progress is needed in the negotiations before a crunch Brussels summit next week.

Mr Barnier briefed top EU officials behind closed doors at a regular meeting of the College of Commissionerswhich also heard European Commission secretary-general Martin Selmayr warn of the need to be prepared for “all outcomes” from Brexit.

In Westminster, the Prime Minister urged MPs to do their “duty” to implement the result of the Brexit referendum as she struggled to maintain discipline within the Tory ranks.

It was Mrs May’s first appearance in the Commons since last month’s Salzburg summit, when EU leaders told her that her Chequers blueprint for Brexit would not work.

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Theresa May urged MPs to act in the national interest over Brexit at Prime Minister’s Questions (PA)

She has come under growing pressure from Brexit-backing Tories to drop the plan agreed by the Cabinet at her country residence in July and instead seek a Canada-style free trade deal.

But veteran Europhile Tory Kenneth Clarke urged her to ignore hardline Brexiteers and bring forward a deal acceptable to pro-EU MPs on both sides of the Commons.

The former chancellor said that would reveal the “hardline Eurosceptic views” of the “Bennites” in the Labour leadership and the “right-wing nationalists” on the Tory benches were in the minority in the Commons.

The Prime Minister said: “I would hope that everybody across this whole House will put the national interest first.”

She added they should also remember that Parliament gave the British people the decision over Brexit, and following the 2016 referendum result “it is our duty to ensure that we leave”.

The negotiations are reaching a critical stage ahead of next week’s European Council summit.

The meeting was initially framed as the deadline for agreement on the terms of UK withdrawal from the EU, as well as the publication of a political declaration on future relations in areas such as trade and security.

But with both sides confirming that differences remain on issues such as the status of the Irish border, expectations are growing that the final moment of decision will be put back to a special summit in November.

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