Lord Trimble: Brexit deal 'is a great step forward and within spirit of Good Friday Agreement'
Former UUP leader David Trimble has backed Boris Johnson's Brexit deal, describing the Prime Minister's proposals as a "great step forward".
Lord Trimble, one of the key negotiators of the Belfast Agreement, said the new deal brokered with the EU was within the spirit of the 1998 peace accord.
"Yesterday's agreement is a great step forward," he told political magazine The Spectator.
"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.
"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."
Earlier this year Lord Trimble wrote an analysis for the Policy Exchange think tank arguing that the Irish backstop plans contained in Theresa May's proposed withdrawal agreement would wreck the Good Friday Agreement.
He said at the time: "To save it, the next Prime Minister must neuter this threat and then insist that the Belfast Agreement between the UK and Ireland be used to resolve the issues of the border and North-South co-operation.
"In doing so, he can secure the 1998 settlement, restore British-Irish relations and ensure a stable exit for the UK from the EU."
Responding to Lord Trimble's intervention, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds last night reiterated his party's position.
"David Trimble is entitled to his own opinion, and we have and have had many differences over the years," he told the BBC's Inside Politics programme.
"The important point is that he speaks of the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement - but [the Government's proposals] aren't in compliance with the letter of the Good Friday agreement as he well knows."
Mr Dodds said the consent mechanism which has been inserted into the PM's plan "drives a coach and horses" through the Good Friday Agreement, claiming it sets aside the "parallel consent" mechanism which requires a majority of unionists and nationalists to agree.
"Uniquely, in this one area of whether or not we're going to be subjected to EU rules and regulations, that will be done on a pure simple majority vote," Mr Dodds said.
"But if we are going to go down this route of changing the Belfast Agreement in order to get a particular outcome, then this opens up real questions and issues about the future of the Belfast Agreement, the St Andrews Agreement, the architecture of Stormont, the Assembly and the Executive.
"We find that utterly unacceptable."
Lord Trimble's former UUP colleague Lord Kilclooney also said he disagreed with the former First Minister's assessment of the PM's proposals.
He said he felt Lord Trimble had "misunderstood" the Good Friday Agreement.
Lord Kilclooney - a former home affairs minister at Stormont - said the current UK/EU exit deal was in fact a "significant step toward a united Ireland".
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Julian Smith moved to clarify the implications for Northern Ireland of the proposed Brexit deal.
"There is no question of Northern Ireland's position in the UK changing one iota by this deal," Mr Smith told the BBC.
"What this deal does is protect the border; it protects north-south trade, and it protects the peace process.
"If you want to get Brexit done, you need to go for it. I think no-deal is a bad place for the UK to be in, and particularly for Northern Ireland.
"I hope all MPs, when they go through the division lobbies, make a responsible decision.
"The whole country is fed up of this chapter of Brexit. Get it voted on, and get it done," he said.
In February Lord Trimble announced he was launching a judicial review of Theresa May's failed deal on the grounds that the backstop went against the peace treaty.
He and other Brexiteers argued it risked treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.