Belfast Telegraph

EU must not use Northern Ireland as 'bargaining chip' in Brexit talks, warns Dodds

Deputy leader of the DUP Nigel Dodds. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Deputy leader of the DUP Nigel Dodds. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said the EU must consider the feelings of unionists with Brexit talks set to intensify.

Mr Dodds said that he believed work was ongoing to secure an acceptable withdrawal agreement, despite media speculation to the contrary.

The North Antrim MP was speaking after Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Luxembourg on Monday to hold talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel.

The Prime Minister said that while he had been encouraged by the meetings and the EU's desire to avoid a no-deal Brexit, there had not been a "total breakthrough".

Mr Johnson has insisted that the UK will leave the European Union on October 31 with or without a deal, despite Parliament passing a law requiring him to request an extension if a deal cannot be agreed.

Mr Dodds said the progress made was encouraging.

“Behind the soundbites and the negotiating positions it is clear that work has been ongoing to secure an agreement to allow a sensible and managed exit from the European Union," the DUP deputy leader said.

"The fact that discussions are to intensify and will soon be on a daily basis should be welcomed by everyone.

"The Belfast Agreement is still held up as a key factor in reaching a deal. The European Union should not use Northern Ireland as a bargaining chip, but should recognise the principle of consent and parity of esteem which are also included within that document. The best way to build on the progress made in Northern Ireland is to secure an agreement that can be supported by unionists as well as nationalists."

Mr Dodds said that he believed the Prime Minister would work to secure a deal.

"The rhetoric may not have been toned down from all participants, but the space is available for an agreement to be found, if there is the will to do so. It should be clear to everyone in the European Union that the Prime Minister is serious about securing that agreement,” the North Antrim MP said.

Contrary to Mr Dodds UUP leader Robin Swann said that he didn't believe Monday's meeting had given "cause for optimism".

"The respective statements give the impression that the discussions between the UK and the EU are being run at the same pace as the talks to restore devolution at Stormont - and that's not saying much," Mr Swann said.

The North Antrim MLA said that work needed to be done to find a replacement for the backstop and that any "repackaged backstop under another name" would destroy the Good Friday Agreement.

"The EU needs to decide which is more important to them, the retention of the Belfast Agreement or the backstop? The choice should be the Belfast Agreement every time,” Mr Swann said.

SDLP Brexit spokesperson Daniel McCrossan said that the backstop could only be replaced by an alternative that meets the same goals, which had not yet been presented.

PM Boris Johnson with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker inside a restaurant in Luxembourg prior to a working lunch on Brexit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
PM Boris Johnson with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker inside a restaurant in Luxembourg prior to a working lunch on Brexit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“I understand that the backstop is challenging for unionism. But it is the only mechanism on the table that protects us from a no-deal," the West Tyrone MLA said.

"There has been significant speculation about compromise measures in the last few days. No party should be politically bludgeoned for the difficult decisions needed to create the space for compromise. Time is running short, however, and there is a significant amount of ground left for some to cover.”

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has suggested that the answer to Northern Ireland's position on Brexit could be found in a joint letter from Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness written in August 2016.

In the letter the then First Minister and deputy First Minister outlined that unique circumstances in Northern Ireland must be recognised during Brexit negotiations and that any exit could not damage the border or economy.

On Monday Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said that the united position was "torn up" when the DUP entered a Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Conservative Government.

“The DUP ignored Arlene Foster’s own advice in the letter which recognised the need for unique solutions in the North and instead blindly followed the Tory party Brexiteers who have brought us to the point of a catastrophic crash," Mrs O'Neill said.

Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster at Stormont in 2016
Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster at Stormont in 2016

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