A prominent DUP member has challenged Boris Johnson “what has changed” since the former Foreign Secretary said the UK should ‘junk the backstop’ at the DUP conference in November.
South Down MLA Jim Wells - who months ago had the whip withdrawn from him by the party – said it would be “very disappointing” if Mr Johnson’s u-turn on Theresa May’s Brexit deal was “all part of a grander scheme” to secure the leadership of the Conservative Party.
In November, the high-profile Conservative MP was given a rapturous reception at the DUP conference when he said the backstop would turn the UK into a “satellite state”.
Mr Johnson was greeted with cheering and applause when he said: “Unless we junk this backstop, we will find that Brussels has got us exactly where they want us - a satellite state.”
But on Wednesday night, after Theresa May pledged to quit as Prime Minister if MPs back her Brexit deal containing the backstop, Mr Johnson indicated he would reluctantly support the deal.
Mr Wells, speaking to the News Letter, said nothing has changed when it comes to the backstop since Mr Johnson addressed the party conference.
“He was cheered to the rafters (at the conference),” Mr Wells said. “He was the star performer as it were and everyone was extremely enthusiastic to hear him singing from the same hymnsheet as the DUP.
“It’s disappointing that because of the possible resignation of the Prime Minister that he is now prepared to accept the deal he was so scathing against in the past.
“Theresa May resigning doesn’t change the deal.”
He continued: “It begs the question - if nothing has changed since November then why would we unionists, and I mean we unionists in general terms - why would we change our view when there’s been no fundamental change.
“We’re still sitting, pretty much, as we were at the party conference. There have been hours and hours of negotiations but we’re still as we were, with the fundamental question of whether this deal causes damage to the union - it does.”
Asked about the prospect of a future Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mr Wells said: “The leadership of the Conservative Party is entirely an internal matter for them. But it would be very disappointing if this move was all part of a grander scheme to secure that leadership.
“There has to be principle and the principle is ‘does this deal damage Britain’s position and does it damage Northern Ireland’s constitutional position’. It does.” He added: “Boris knows that.”