Two senior Ulster Unionist Party representatives have accused the DUP of failing in its primary duty of protecting the Union.
MEP Jim Nicholson and Lord Empey were reacting to the Brexit draft withdrawal agreement, warning that it “makes for grim reading” and could have serious implications for the constitutional integrity of the UK.
Arguing that agreeing to the backstop last December was “a huge strategic error”, Mr Nicholson said: “We have repeatedly warned that the backstop would come back to haunt us and unfortunately so it has.
“At the time, we wrote to the prime minister outlining our serious concerns about the implications of the text on the constitutional integrity of the UK and democratic decision making in Northern Ireland.
“The government were hoodwinked by the EU, and the DUP bought the December agreement hook, line and sinker too.
“Instead of demanding and scrutinising meaningful legal advice regarding the potential implications of the backstop, the DUP and Arlene Foster instead chose to boast of commitments they had supposedly secured and ultimately welcomed the December agreement.
“Mrs Foster said that at the time, ‘Northern Ireland will not be separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatorily from the rest of the United Kingdom.’
“In the months that have passed since then, the DUP have repeatedly stated that they hold great influence at the heart of government and would use it to protect the Union and its people, including on Brexit specifically. They failed in their primary duty – to protect the Union. The influence they claimed they had has either been misused or ignored.”
Lord Empey said he and his colleagues are still studying the detail of the lengthy document but accused the DUP of leading Northern Ireland into “a terrible mess”.
“From a pro-Union point of view it does not make good reading,” he told the News Letter.
“My anger, apart from being directed at the government, is directed at the DUP. They have failed in their primary duty to protect the Union. Everything that we warned about – Jim Nicholson in particular – has come to pass.
“Strategically they (the DUP) got themselves involved in that backstop arrangement last year, didn’t understand the full implications of it, and now it’s come back to bite us.”
Questioning if the DUP will be continuing with its confidence and supply agreement with Mrs May’s government, Lord Empey continued: “We have been led into a crisis. The government hasn’t honoured its commitments, the DUP hasn’t delivered and we are now facing a huge challenge.
“Unionism is really going to have to take a close look at how it’s represented in the future because these guys aren’t cutting it.”
The former UUP leader added that it’s “difficult to see” where the prime minister will get a majority in order to get the draft deal through the House of Commons.
The DUP’s North Antrim MP Ian Paisley has encouraged Robin Swann to stand with the DUP and other unionists throughout the United Kingdom rather than try and score a political point.
Mr Paisley said: “At a time when unionists throughout the United Kingdom are standing together, it is cheap in the extreme for Robin Swann to engineer attacks against the DUP.
“Unionism in Northern Ireland should also stand united against a deal which is bad for Northern Ireland. Grassroots unionism does not want to see such a petty squabble when the real focus should be on the proposed Brexit deal.
“The DUP will work with those from all sides of the House of Commons and all parts of the UK to oppose a deal which weakens the Union. If the UUP is prepared to set their own petty agenda aside, they could play a constructive role in that process.”