Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey has called on the DUP to take responsibility for the “awful mess” of the proposed EU withdrawal deal and apologise for “misleading” the people of Northern Ireland.
Following the publication by the government of a document describing the overall legal effect of the prime minister’s agreement, Lord Empey said he and his UUP colleagues want to see the government’s legal advice in full.
But pointing to the potential prospect of the introduction of a border in the Irish Sea, Lord Empey said: “One didn’t need legal advice on December 8 last year when the interim report on negotiations was published and the ‘backstop’ was spelled out in black and white. It clearly stated that Northern Ireland would remain taking regulations from Brussels when potentially Great Britain would not, thus creating a border up the Irish Sea.
“At that time, Arlene Foster said ‘Northern Ireland will not be separated constitutionally, politically, economically or regulatory from the rest of the United Kingdom. The report makes it clear that the UK remains committed to preserving the integrity of its internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it’.
“What were DUP MPs doing? Did they not read and understand the backstop proposal? The statement from Mrs Foster was implying that all would be well, and when the comments from Ian Paisley MP are added, when he foolishly claimed that Leo Varadkar had been ‘done over’, it is clear that the DUP didn’t see the dangers a year ago.”
Accusing DUP representatives of being “asleep at the wheel” a year ago when they could have done something to scupper plans for a backstop, the former UUP leader continued: “This is one awful mess and the DUP must take their share of the responsibility for it. They did say at their conference in 2017 ‘it is the DUP that stands in the heart of government, not in Northern Ireland, but across the United Kingdom’.
“They misled the people of Northern Ireland and should apologise for it.”
Responding to Lord Empey’s comments, DUP MP Sammy Wilson accused him of “trotting out tired nonsense”.
“The DUP, alongside his party leader, supported the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union whilst Reg was campaigning for us to remain tied to Brussels.
“It was the DUP which secured the inclusion of Paragraph 50 into last December’s Joint Report. Had that paragraph been retained in the withdrawal agreement then we would not face the problems that have now arisen,” Mr Wilson said.
“For someone so exercised about the backstop, it is notable that Reg Empey waited nearly a year after the Joint Report before bothering to say anything.”
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party representatives are to hold a series of discussions with a number of Northern Ireland’s leading business organisations at Stormont today.
The meetings are being held to discuss the specifics of the EU withdrawal agreement, and concerns about its content.