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DUP sides with Government on motion backing Prime Minister Brexit plan

Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The DUP backed Theresa May's Government in the Commons on the defeated motion supporting her approach to Brexit.

The motion called on MPs to reiterate their support for the approach set out in an earlier set of votes on January 29.

On that occasion, the Commons voted for a Government-backed amendment calling on ministers to re-open negotiations with Brussels on the Northern Ireland backstop.

However it also voted for a non-binding cross-party amendment rejecting a no-deal break with the EU.

Furious MPs said supporting the motion would have amounted to an endorsement of efforts to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

MPs voted by 303 to 258 against the motion.

The DUP voted against an amendment put forward by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the government providing for a meaningful vote by February 27, or to rule out a no deal. That amendment was defeated by a majority of 16.

Speaking during the debate the DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said: "We want to get a deal with the European Union.

"But isn't it the case you take a no deal off the table that's the surest way of ensuring the other side digs in on their current position. That is just a fact of life.

"So those who call for no deal to be taken off the table are actually playing into the hands of the possibility of a no deal."

He said Irish officials "played a crucial role" in the EU talks.

"They can't hide behind Brussels and likewise Brussels can't hide behind Dublin on theses issues," he added.

Lady Sylvia Hermon did not support the government. She asked the Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay if the government would confirm it had "no intention" of replacing the backstop. The minister did not respond.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson said he welcomed the assurance from the Brexit secretary the UK would the EU on March 29 saying that was important as it would give the prime minister the leverage required.

"Ordinary people outside will be thinking what kind of idiots we are here in this house if we think that it is wise to send someone in to negotiate and at the same time say to them 'and by the way you are not allowed to walk away from those negotiations'.

"Ordinary people in the street understand the importance of that."

He also said leaving on the stated date would "remove the element of uncertainty" for businesses and the solution was to be found in the 'Malthouse alternative'.

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.

Ian Paisley asked for the government to confirm it had begun drafting "textual, legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement".

Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said they were "firm" any change would be legally binding but it would not be appropriate to provide a running commentary on the process.

Following the government defeat, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mrs May needed to accept her strategy had failed and come forward with a plan that could bring people together to prevent the “catastrophe” of no-deal.

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