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Suzanne Breen: PM is in fantasy land if she thought olive branch would work

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May
Suzanne Breen

Suzanne Breen

Whoever is advising the Prime Minister on what is likely to win DUP support for her Brexit plan next week is either extremely optimistic or scarily naive.

There wasn't a snowball's chance in Hell that the party would view yesterday's proposals from Downing Street, breathe a sigh of relief, and declare that all its backstop fears had been put to bed.

Indeed, Theresa May notched up a first in Northern Ireland in recent times. All five main parties were united in rejecting her proposals, although for completely different reasons.

Right across the spectrum - unionists, nationalists, Remainers and Brexiteers - they were all dissatisfied. Of course, there was only one party whose verdict really mattered, courtesy of those 10 votes in a House of Commons where Mrs May is struggling daily to survive.

Stormont would have a "strong role" if the backstop was ever triggered, the Government pledged.

Sinn Fein said this was tantamount to a DUP veto on the backstop. The Taoiseach declared that a veto for the Assembly would be totally unacceptable. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood succinctly highlighted the farce of handing "an empty veto to an empty chamber".

The DUP wasn't buying it anyway. Long gone are the days when unionists automatically accepted the assurances of a Prime Minister.

A DUP source quipped: "The window dressing doesn't wash."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds put it much more politely. He noted that any role for the Assembly would be "cosmetic and meaningless" as it wouldn't be able to override the Government's legal obligations regarding a backstop enshrined in an internationally legally binding agreement.

This is the Brexit backstop for slow Government learners. What Mrs May just doesn't seem to get is that if there aren't changes to the legal text of the withdrawal agreement, the DUP won't be voting for it.

Business leaders clearly take a different view, but with the Ulster Unionists and the TUV sharing the DUP's concerns, the party won't be changing its mind any time soon.

"We will continue to work to secure a better deal in the time ahead," concluded Mr Dodds.

But with only five days until the big vote, it looks increasingly unlikely that anything radically different will be put on the table.

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