DUP rubbish May’s ‘fairly meaningless’ Brexit assurances on Northern Ireland as deal debate begins
The DUP have slapped down Theresa May’s last-ditch plan to woo them with new Brexit powers for Northern Ireland.
As debate begins again on the withdrawal agreement, cabinet minister David Lidington announced a series of assurances aimed at winning more MPs over ahead of next week’s vote.
The pledges will be included in a written statement to be published on Wednesday, which will promise a “lock” for the Stormont assembly on new areas of law applying to Northern Ireland if the backstop comes into force.
But DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson, who said he had seen the proposals and discussed them with ministers, told Sky News they were “fairly meaningless” and would not win his party’s support.
He claimed the proposals for Northern Ireland did not amount to a veto on the backstop being used.
“We are concerned that this falls far short of what we agreed last December, which was a veto for Stormont on the backstop,” he said.
“This says we would be consulted if it were to be introduced, and that if it were to be introduced we would have the ability to stop any new EU regulations.
“These would be outside the scope of the 300 areas of law set out in the withdrawal agreement and of course it’s possible that existing EU laws could be extended to new industries which could not be vetoed.
“This is fairly meaningless. We have had detailed discussions with the government and they know this doesn’t go near to meeting the requirements.”
Mr Wilson confirmed that the DUP plan to vote against the deal on Tuesday, which cabinet ministers expect will be voted down by Tory Brexiteers.
He added he hoped that if the government loses the vote, Theresa May will return to Brussels to carry out more negotiations.
A veto for the Northern Ireland Assembly on the use of the backstop has been rejected by other parties in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Fein.
But Mr Lidington, who is effectively deputy prime minister, warned MPs that while Mrs May was still seeking assurances in Brussels about the backstop, there is no alternative deal on the table.
He said: “I don’t think that the British public are served by fantasies about magical alternative deals that are somehow going to sort of spring out of a cupboard in Brussels.
“This deal on the table has involved some very difficult give and take on both sides and if you go around and talk to the other EU 27 governments they will say that there are elements of this that cause them some political pain.
“But they are very clear, in conversations I have had with them as well as their public statements, they ain’t going to be going back and unpicking this for some brand new brilliant renegotiations.
“So, the choice that people have is this deal or it is no deal or it is, as some MPs advocate, to reverse the 2016 referendum entirely.”
Mr Lidington added that Tory rebels who inflicted a defeat on the government were trying to “deny reality” by opposing both Mrs May’s deal and the prospect of leaving with no deal.
A seven-point series of promises and assurances to the DUP and Tory rebels is set to be published this morning.
They are expected to be:
:: We recognise there are ongoing concerns about the backstop and what it would mean for Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the UK.
:: That is why we remain in discussions with the EU about further assurances to address those concerns.
:: It is also why we have been looking at commitments we can make unilaterally to underline Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom.
:: We recognise that these alone do not address all of parliament’s concerns.
:: But it is right we look to do what we can as a government to safeguard the interests of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland, and respond to some of the concerns that have been raised.
:: So we will publish a paper that will outline some strong commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.
:: This includes a Stormont lock on new areas of law, providing a legal guarantee that no new areas of law can apply to Northern Ireland under the backstop over the heads of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The final vote on the Brexit deal is scheduled for Tuesday.
Mrs May’s spokesman said on Tuesday she was “focused on winning the vote” and believes her deal “is in the best interests of the country”.