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Attorney General Cox to 'abandon' Irish Brexit backstop time limit - changes have to be legally binding, says DUP's Dodds

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds

By Jonathan Bell

The DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds has said any changes to the withdrawal agreement with the EU mush be legally binding but they are committed to getting a deal.

It comes as the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox - who will be in Brussels on Monday with the Brexit secretary for further talks - is reported to be abandoning getting a time limit or exit mechanism added to the backstop in the Irish withdrawal agreement.

The DUP and a number of MPs have outlined their key demands ahead of any meaningful vote in the Commons. Chief among them is they want to examine any agreement to ensure the backstop is temporary.

"We know the current backstop arrangements are meant to be temporary and all the assurances in the world from the EU that they will negotiate in good faith etc, it doesn't change that," he told the BBC.

"What we need to have is legally binding change not assurances about what we know already."

We want to get a deal, we certainly are not in the business of running down the clock towards some kind of no deal scenario.

He said any change to the withdrawal agreement would have to have "legal effect".

"The more important question is, what is it that has to change?

"The problem with it is that at the minute if the agreement is accepted in its current form The UK will only every be able to get out of it either by having a full customs union and high single market alignment for the whole of the UK or Northern Ireland left behind in such an arrangement. And that's the problem with it."

Mr Dodds said he did not believe his party held sway with dozens of MPs in terms of how they would vote in parliament but said members were aware the party had been consistent and after the "best interests of the of the union in the medium to long term whatever the short term benefits" would be.

"And that will be their considerations for what Geoffrey Cox is to bring back," he continued.

Asked if the DUP was "slithering" toward a fudge deal, in the words of the former UUP leader Lord Empey, Mr Dodds said they would have no problem saying no to a deal "if it was not right for Northern Ireland".

"We will judge all these things in the round and the best interests of the people we represent and the UK. We want a deal that works for the whole of the UK and NI."

Mr Dodds said a lot depended on the EU and if they were prepared to reach agreement.

"We want to get a deal, we certainly are not in the business of running down the clock towards some kind of no deal scenario," he said.

"But if people want a deal then they have got to realise that the current arrangements which is an indefinite trap forever holding over Northern Ireland to the prospect of keeping us in the customs union, single market, for agri food, for manufactured goods and certainly of the customs union for the whole of the UK that is an unacceptable position."

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