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Let's talk, DUP urges Boris Johnson as vote puts Brexit deal in limbo

Nigel Dodds speaking in the Commons
Nigel Dodds speaking in the Commons

By Our Political Staff

Boris Johnson was last night urged to talk to the DUP after MPs forced him to put his plans to leave the EU on October 31 on ice in another humiliating Commons defeat.

DUP votes again proved crucial after MPs voted by 322 to 308 to reject his plan to ram legislation approving his Brexit deal through the Commons in just three days.

The Prime Minister told MPs he would now "pause" the Withdrawal Agreement Bill until the EU takes a decision on whether to grant another Brexit delay. However, the vote would appear to put paid to his hope of leaving with a deal in eight days' time.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told MPs: "The House has made a wise decision to allow further time for detailed examination of some of the most important legislation that we will ever have to consider, particularly given the impact on Northern Ireland.

"As the Prime Minister reflects on the votes on Saturday and studies the votes tonight, I suggest that he should talk to us again about what can be done even at this late stage to ensure that we join in this great quest to get Brexit done, but as one United Kingdom."

Just minutes earlier MPs had voted to back the deal in principle by 329 to 299 on the second reading of the Bill - the first time the Commons has been prepared to support any Brexit deal. The DUP and North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon opposed the Government in both votes.

Speaker John Bercow said the Bill was now considered to be "in limbo" and will not proceed through the Commons this week as planned.

European Council president Donald Tusk last night tweeted that he "will recommend the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed MPs' backing for the deal. He said: "We will now await further developments from London and Brussels about next steps including timetable for the legislation and the need for an extension."

Earlier, Independent MP Lady Hermon warned the PM that his Bill failed to explain the new consent process for Northern Ireland in the draft deal.

DUP MPs also lined up to express concerns about the compatibility of the deal with the Good Friday Agreement, which requires cross-community decision-making. Assembly consent for extending an initial four-year period for the post-Brexit arrangements, which include the creation of an all-island regulatory zone on goods, would be done on the basis of a simple Stormont majority.

Lady Hermon said: "I say very clearly to the Prime Minister, do not take the people of Northern Ireland for fools - we are not fools. The Prime Minister needs to explain in detail how his new consent process operates." Mr Johnson said the process is detailed in the unilateral declaration made between the UK and Ireland. He added there are a "small minority of economic arrangements" in Northern Ireland which remain in alignment with the EU for four years unless and until a majority vote of the Stormont Assembly elects to remain in alignment.

DUP Westminster leader Mr Dodds said: "It is quite clear that whatever you say about Northern Ireland being in the UK customs union, de facto the European Union customs code applies in Northern Ireland if the protocol comes into place which requires exit declarations from Northern Ireland."

Mr Johnson replied: "There are no checks GB/NI. There will be some light-touch measures to ensure there is no illegal trade. Illegal trade in endangered animal species and banned firearms, which I think you would agree was sensible."

He added: "Even these measures evaporate and are terminated automatically, they automatically dissolve, unless a majority of the Northern Irish Assembly in Stormont votes to keep them."

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