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DUP not backing Theresa May Brexit deal - sufficient progress 'not achieved'

Sinn Fein says DUP is "hell bent" on pursuing a Brexit strategy that is “driving us all towards a no-deal catastrophe”

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds responds to Attorney General Geoffrey Cox during the Brexit debate in the House of Commons, London. House of Commons/PA Wire
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds responds to Attorney General Geoffrey Cox during the Brexit debate in the House of Commons, London. House of Commons/PA Wire

By Jonathan Bell

The DUP has said sufficient progress has not been achieved in Theresa May's latest deal with the EU.

The Prime Minister looks to be heading for another Commons defeat on her Brexit deal on Tuesday night, after the influential European Research Group also recommended to its members not to back the deal.

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson told Sky News the 10 DUP MPs will be voting against the deal and not abstaining.

Sinn Fein accused the DUP of being "hell bent" on pursuing a Brexit strategy that is “driving us all towards a no-deal catastrophe”.

The Strasbourg document was hailed as having achieved "legally-binding" changes to the withdrawal agreement. However Attorney General said that while it "reduced the risk" of the UK indefinitely remaining in the backstop, his legal opinion was unchanged that there was no unilateral way for the UK to exit the protocol.

In a statement, a DUP spokesman made it clear the party would not be backing the deal on the table for Tuesday evening's meaningful vote.

“The Prime Minister set out a clear objective for legally binding change which would command a majority in the House of Commons in line with the Brady amendment.

"We recognise that the Prime Minister has made limited progress in her discussions with the European Union.  However in our view sufficient progress has not been achieved at this time."

Clear risks remain that the UK would be unable to lawfully exit the backstop were it to be activated. DUP spokesman

The statement continued: "Having carefully considered the published material as well as measuring what has been achieved against our own fundamental tests, namely the impact of the backstop on the constitutional and economic integrity of the Union of the United Kingdom, it is clear that the risks remain that the UK would be unable to lawfully exit the backstop were it to be activated.

"The Attorney General’s legal advice is clear in his last paragraph 'the legal risk remains unchanged that if through no such demonstrable failure of either party, but simply because of intractable differences, that situation does arise, the United Kingdom would have, at least while the fundamental circumstances remained the same, no internationally lawful means of exiting the protocol’s arrangements , save by agreement'.

"We want to see a deal which works for every part of the United Kingdom.  We will support the right deal which respects the referendum result and Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

"The European Union has been intransigent. It is possible to reach a sensible deal which works for the United Kingdom and the European Union but it will require all sides to be reasonable and in deal making mode.”

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, in the Commons, urged the DUP's Nigel Dodds to back the deal.

On the legal opinion, Mr Dodds said: "We know from the Irish government and from others what they see as the ultimate destination for Northern Ireland - the backstop is the bottom line.

"From what the Attorney General is saying today, provided there is no bad faith, the fact is Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK could be trapped if it's a question of the EU not agree with the UK to a superseding agreement."

This blinkered strategy is reckless in the extreme. It is driving us all towards a no-deal crash that would be catastrophic. Michelle O'Neill

Earlier Sky News reported that not all of the DUP MPs are "on the same page" in regard to how the party will vote on Tuesday evening's meaningful vote.

However, RTE reports the DUP will likely "hedge their bets" and while not supporting the deal tonight will ultimately switch to support Mrs May.

Reacting, Sinn Fein vive-president Michelle O'Neill said the EU has shown "considerable patience" with the UK to secure a deal, but the backstop is necessary to prevent a hard border and protect the Good Friday Agreement.

“The business community, the farming community, the Civil Service, educationalists and trade unionists have all warned in recent weeks about the dire consequences of a no-deal crash on our economy," she said.

“The DUP continues to ignore these warnings, just as they ignore the fact that the majority of people in the north voted against Brexit in the first place.

“This blinkered strategy is reckless in the extreme. It is driving us all towards a no-deal crash that would be catastrophic.

“At this critical time the DUP have a choice to make. It is time to put people’s jobs, livelihoods and peace first before selfish party political interests.”

Meanwhile the ERG said its legal advice was the agreement fell short of the prime minister's own tests.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on MPs to reject the deal and accused Mrs May of a plan to "recklessly run down the clock" before March 29.

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