Minister’s idea to tackle backstop issue will not wash with us, says DUP
The DUP last night said it would not support moves to add a 'codicil' to the Brexit agreement as the way to deal with the controversial backstop proposals it contains.
The party was responding to suggestions by a Cabinet minister yesterday that the Prime Minister may not seek to reopen the withdrawal agreement to make changes to the backstop, the insurance policy to prevent a hard border.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright indicated the backstop could be amended via a codicil, or supplement, saying the "objective" mattered more than the "mechanism".
But last night the DUP firmly ruled out anything other than a reopening of the draft agreement - a course of action Mrs May has already committed herself to in Parliament.
"We supported the Brady amendment which mandated the Government to seek a replacement of the backstop," a DUP spokesman said last night.
"During the debate the PM committed to legally binding changes to the draft withdrawal agreement. That's what's needed.
"There is no 'agreement' unless it's able to command support in Parliament. We will measure any new agreement against our tests of protecting the Union and respecting the referendum result."
Mr Wright told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I think what's obvious is that Parliament, and I think probably people well beyond Parliament, are concerned about the potential indefinite nature of the backstop - that's what we've got to do something about.
"If this is the only way of doing it, then that's the way we will pursue. If there are other ways of doing it that are just as effective that perhaps we haven't yet explored, then we will do that too."
He added: "I don't think it's the mechanism that matters, it's the objective: if you can get to a place where the potential longevity of the backstop, the potential that the backstop lasts forever can be adequately dealt with, that's what we're all seeking to do."
But his words met a cool reception in Belfast. "The draft withdrawal agreement is flawed because the backstop would undermine the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK," the DUP spokesman said.
"The backstop is the problem. It must be dealt with."
Tory Brexiteer Sir John Redwood agreed that it "needs significant changes, I'm not saying a little change would be sufficient, it requires a renegotiation".
Sir Bill Cash, Conservative chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, said if the changes were just "flowery words" then the deal "won't wash".
"The backstop is unacceptable because it means that we remain in the EU indefinitely and also would do immense damage to relations with Northern Ireland... and therefore as far as I'm concerned unless the wording actually has legal force and has substance it isn't going to work," he said.
Mr Wright's comments came hours after Theresa May wrote to Tory MPs assuring them the Government would continue its work to secure changes to the backstop as she pleaded with them to unite and deliver on Brexit.
Mrs May urged her party to "move beyond what divides us" and sacrifice "personal preferences" for the national interest.
Meanwhile, senior Tory Sir Graham Brady urged his colleagues to "pull together behind the Prime Minister for that final push to Brexit on 29th March".
"Those who imagine things are irretrievable are wrong," he wrote in the Sunday Times.
"We need Theresa May to throw all her energy into ensuring that the backstop is replaced either by a rapid agreement about how the Irish border will function or by a legally watertight guarantee that the backstop could never be permanent."
The PM will return to Brussels for further talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker this week, and intends to speak to the leaders of every EU member state over the coming days.