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Prime Minister May tells DUP EU backstop assurances have 'legal force' - suggests hard border in no-deal Brexit

By Jonathan Bell and PA

Prime Minister Theresa May has told the DUP the assurances from the EU on the backstop being temporary should it come into force do have "legal force" and said the Irish Government would be forced to implement checks on the border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds dismissed the latest update to the Irish backstop - asking Theresa May to "admit that nothing has fundamentally changed".

Mr Dodds said that even her own Attorney General Geoffrey Cox admits the letters "do not alter the fundamental meaning of its provisions".

Speaking in the Commons after a statement to MPs from the Prime Minister on the eve of the crucial meaningful vote, the North Belfast MP said: "So five weeks since the Prime Minister pulled the vote saying there needed to be legally binding assurances, will she admit that nothing has fundamentally changed?

"That's the reality, let's not kid ourselves about that."

But Mrs May denied this was the case, saying the "further assurances" from Brussels and other European leaders "does have legal force in international law" if it came to try and remove the backstop. She said it "effectively" sat alongside the withdrawal agreement and joint political declaration.

"It would be part of any consideration to any challenge to the withdrawal agreement," she said.

She added: "I recognise what I brought back was not what some members wanted from the European Union, but it is not the case that this has not gone further than when we were initially discussing the debate.

"There have been some further assurances from the EU but I accept those are not the same level of assurance that some members of this House wished."

The Prime Minister in her statement to parliament also said that a no-deal Brexit would play into the hands of those in Scotland and Ireland who would want to see the break-up of the Union.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds responds to the latest Brexit statement. Pic PA wire
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds responds to the latest Brexit statement. Pic PA wire
Prime Minister Theresa May in the House of Commons. Pic PA Wire

Earlier Former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson said it was "clear" the EU and Irish Government had said there would be no hard border and technological solutions existed asking what had the PM done to explore those options further.

Prime Minister Theresa May said that the government was committed to technological solutions but pointed out it was "not the case" the EU has said there would be no hard border but rather the European Commission had "made clear" there would be "no flexibility" on border checks after a no deal Brexit.

"So the Irish Government would be expected to apply EU checks in full," she added pointing to the EU's own no-deal contingency planning.

Meanwhile, in what has been said could assuage the DUP and Brexiteers in supporting the withdrawal agreement, the chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland Committee, Andrew Murrison, tabled an amendment to the Brexit motion to create a “sunset clause” preventing the backstop extending beyond the end of 2021.

Mr Murrison - usually loyal to the Prime Minister - said suggestions he was tabling the amendment from the backbenches on behalf of the Government were “incorrect”, telling the Press Association: “The amendment I am tabling will address the concerns I have heard expressed by a large number of colleagues across the House about the potential ‘forever’ nature of the backstop.

“It will introduce a sunset arrangement by which the backstop will fall away.”

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