Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Donaldson slams 'halfway house' Brexit as he denies making a U-turn

Statement: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Statement: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has said that people did not vote for a "halfway house" on Brexit and his party will work to have the referendum result implemented.

He was speaking yesterday after appearing to indicate on Wednesday that the DUP was open to the idea of a temporary customs union.

TUV leader Jim Allister said no unionist could do that because accepting the Prime Minister's deal with a customs union bolt-on meant signing up to the backstop.

In a statement yesterday, Sir Jeffrey urged the Prime Minister to press the EU for changes to the withdrawal agreement rather than try and reach a deal with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

"The referendum result must be respected and implemented. People voted to leave the EU. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of democracy," he said.

"While the Prime Minister and the Government may consider other options as halfway houses or staging posts, that is not the Brexit people voted for.

"We will work in Parliament for the referendum result to be properly respected."

"Rather than subcontract our negotiations to Jeremy Corbyn, the Prime Minister should urge her counterparts across the European Union to recognise the Brady amendment and work towards a sensible deal which Parliament can rally behind."

On Wednesday, Sir Jeffrey told the BBC: "We would have preferred a form of Brexit that enables the UK to negotiate new trade agreements with other countries.

"That's part of the reason for Brexit, and maybe a customs union might be a temporary staging post towards that objective.

"We will wait to see what the Prime Minister brings before Parliament.

"But we are clear - we want a Brexit that delivers for all of the United Kingdom and that keeps the United Kingdom together. That is our objective."

The DUP MP yesterday denied that he had changed his position overnight or that he had backed a temporary customs union.

"I merely suggested that the Commons may end up supporting a customs union, perhaps as a staging post, but that does not infer that we would support such an option. Indeed, I made clear this is not our preferred option," he tweeted.

TUV leader Jim Allister said: "Now is not a time for muddled thinking on a customs union, but for absolute clarity.

"Any unionist foolishly suggesting what is misleadingly referred to as a 'temporary customs union' has clearly forgotten that the backstop locks Northern Ireland - alone within the UK - into the EU customs union. From such there is no escape without Brussels' consent.

"To accept the withdrawal agreement with a customs union bolt-on is to accept the backstop. That is critical.

"The effect of locking Northern Ireland through the backstop into the customs union of a territory different from that of the nation of which we are a part is constitutionally devastating.

"It would leave us alone subject to European Union tariffs and a customs code over which we would have no say, leaving us excluded from any trade deals negotiated by the UK.

"This is not some trifling semantic but goes to the heart of the integrity of the UK.

"Thus, it is not something any unionist should be contemplating."

Meanwhile, DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused the Government of appearing to plan for a Brexit U-turn after Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested a second referendum would be a "credible proposition".

He told the House of Commons: "Are we beginning to see yet the start of another U-turn by a government which has abandoned all of its promises to go forward with a no-deal, to have no border down the Irish Sea and to ensure we leave the EU on 29 March?"

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