As Theresa May made her last expected move to win over the DUP to her Brexit deal, senior members of Arlene Foster’s party instead queued up to bluntly tell the prime minister that she had failed to persuade them.
On the eve of a vote which is likely to be crucial to the question of how long Mrs May survives as prime minister, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds rapidly came out to dismiss the written clarifications which she secured on Monday from Brussels.
Setting out a series of fundamental problems which his party has with what is on offer from the deal, Mr Dodds said that under its terms “Northern Ireland would be subject to EU laws with no representation in Brussels”. That would mean, he said, that “we would rely on the Dublin government to speak up for us”.
Dismissing the EU letter as “meaningless”, Mr Dodds said that instead “the prime minister should now ask for and deliver changes to the Withdrawal Agreement”.
The North Belfast MP also took sharp exception to a comment which Mrs May made in a heavily trailed speech in Stoke where she said that no deal could mean “changes to everyday life in Northern Ireland that would put the future of our Union at risk”.
Mr Dodds said: “The prime minister must explain this comment. What exactly would the government be changing? If this is nothing more than scaremongering, then the prime minister should cease from such foolish talk.”
Later in the Commons Mr Dodds asked Mrs May if “she admits that nothing has fundamentally changed” as a result of the EU letter. Mrs May replied that there had been “further assurances” from the EU. However, she added: “But I recognise that what I have brought back ... is 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 [sic]. There have been some further assurances from the European Union, but I accept that those are not the same levels of assurance that some members of this House wished [to see].”
DUP MP Jim Shannon put it to Mrs May that she was now putting forward a “watered down and false” form of unionism which treated Northern Ireland differently. Mrs May replied by saying that she had published a document last week which she thought should reassure unionists.
In the Lords, DUP chairman Lord Morrow said: “It is patently clear that Northern Ireland is to be treated differently from other regions of the United Kingdom.
“From the beginning of the negotiations, we set one red line for the government – that there could be no new border in the Irish Sea, thus undermining the economic and constitutional position or integrity of the United Kingdom.”
Lord Morrow turned his fire on Dublin, condemning the “belligerent attitude of the prime minister of the Republic of Ireland” which he said had been “downright unhelpful”.
He accused Leo Varadkar of “being obstructionist in every way that he can and instead of working in the best interests of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, he is more content to meddle and make things as difficult as he possibly can”.