Arlene Foster: DUP still won’t support Theresa May’s Brexit deal

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said her party will not support a further Westminster vote on the Prime Minister’s proposed Brexit deal with the EU, should it come before MPs for a third time.

Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 9:58 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th March 2019, 10:56 pm
DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

But after none of MPs’ eight proposed options for Brexit last night secured clear backing in Commons votes, Brexit Secretary Steven Barclay said the results strengthened the government’s view that her deal was the “the best option”.

The DUP statement had been expected much earlier in the day, with the delay raising speculation over whether the Northern Ireland party was ready to drop its opposition.

However this proved to be mistaken, the unionist party remaining as resolute against the Prime Minister’s deal as from their first reading of it.

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In a statement tonight, Mrs Foster said: “The DUP and the Government have had good discussions in recent days and some progress on domestic legislation has been made.

“All concerned recognise the need to ensure that as we leave the European Union the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom is maintained.

“However, given the fact that the necessary changes we seek to the backstop have not been secured between the Government and the European Union, and the remaining and ongoing strategic risk that Northern Ireland would be trapped in backstop arrangements at the end of the implementation period, we will not be supporting the Government if they table a fresh meaningful vote.

“The backstop if operational has the potential to create an internal trade border within the United Kingdom and would cut us off from our main internal market, being Great Britain.

“We want to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from, and our future relationship with, the European Union on terms that accord with our key objectives to ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom.

“In our view the current withdrawal agreement does not do so and the backstop, which we warned this Government against from its first inception, poses an unacceptable threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom and will inevitably limit the United Kingdom’s ability to negotiate on the type of future relationship with the EU.”

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, replying to a journalist asking if they might abstain on Mrs May’s deal, said: “The DUP do not abstain on the Union.”

The DUP announcement came after Theresa May tonight vowed to stand down if MPs pass her EU deal on Brexit.

The Prime Minister did not name a date for her departure but her announcement sets the stage for a Conservative leadership contest.

Her offer came in response to calls from a number of her backbenchers for her to promise to go in return for their help in pushing the deal through Parliament.

And there are indications that Brexit figurehead and Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson may be preparing to swing behind her proposal.

Mr Johnson left a meeting of the European Research Group (ERG) without commenting on his apparent U-turn.

He declined to say whether he still believed Mrs May’s deal wrapped a “suicide vest” around the British constitution, as he claimed in 2018.

The developments happened against a backdrop of further indicative votes on Brexit by MPs.

None of MPs’ eight proposed options for Brexit last night secured clear backing following Commons votes.

Calls for a customs union with the EU were rejected by 272 to 264 votes while a call for a referendum to endorse any deal was rejected by 295 to 268 votes.

Brexit Secretary Steven Barclay said the results strengthened the government’s view that their deal was the “the best option” the BBC reported.

Labour’s alternative plan for Brexit - including “close alignment” with the single market and protections for workers’ rights - was defeated by 307 votes to 237.

Five other propositions, including backing for a no-deal exit, the so-called Common Market 2.0 plan, a proposal to remain in the European Economic Area and to stop the Brexit process by revoking Article 50 - all failed to secure the backing of a majority of MPs.

Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin, who oversaw the unprecedented process of indicative votes, said the lack of a majority for any proposition was “disappointing”.