Belfast Telegraph

'Time for EU to stop ignoring voice of unionists' says Dodds as Sinn Fein vow 'Ireland won't be pushed around'

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has welcomed Prime Minister Theresa May's plans to return to Brussels in an attempt to renegotiate her Brexit withdrawal deal.

On Tuesday, Mrs May called on the the House of Commons to back an amendment tabled by Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady which would require her to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements” to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Despite what she acknowledged was a “limited appetite” in Europe for reopening talks, she insisted a compromise could be reached.

“I believe with a mandate from this House, I can secure such a change in advance of our departure from the EU,” the PM said.

Reacting to Mrs May's comments, North Belfast MP Mr Dodds said that the move was a "sensible step forward".

"From day one when the draft withdrawal agreement was published, we rejected the backstop and argued for legally binding change within the withdrawal agreement," he said.

However, Sinn Fein's South Down MP Chris Hazzard rejected any proposed changes to the backstop, saying Parliament must realise that "it cannot push the people of Ireland around over Brexit".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would speak to Mrs May to see "what the next steps are" after votes in the Commons on Tuesday night.

The EU have been adamant that they are not inclined to renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal agreement, and have insisted the backstop plan must remain to ensure there is no hard border in Ireland.

Earlier on Tuesday the DUP gave their backing to the "Malthouse" alternative proposals to the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard
Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard

The plan involves a "recasting" of the Northern Ireland backstop as "free trade agreement-lite" with a commitment on all sides there should be no hard border on the island of Ireland and an extended transition period to December 2021.

The DUP's deputy leader said it was clear that a deal could not be reached without changes to the backstop.

"We want to find a solution which can win the support of parliament and the EU. That is why we have endorsed the ‘Malthouse’ alternative as a possible route forward," Mr Dodds said.

"The backstop would have placed a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. A new border east-west is no more acceptable to unionists than a new border north-south would be acceptable to nationalists and republicans. 

"Now is the time for the EU to stop ignoring the voice of unionists."

Mr Dodds said the current proposals were neither "reasonable nor acceptable".

"There are other ways to guarantee no hard border on the island of Ireland and its time for a more constructive approach by Brussels.”

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said that Parliament was not acting in the "best interests of Ireland".

“In its desperation, the British government is trying to threaten and intimidate the Irish people with a hard border and an economic cliff edge," the South Down MP said.

“They need to realise the days of the British government and British parliament threatening the people of Ireland and pushing them around are over and not coming back.

“The Irish government and EU need to stand firm against attempts to sabotage what has already been agreed."

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