Business and farming leaders are being used as “puppets” by the Northern Ireland Office in a bid to promote Theresa May’s controversial Brexit deal, a senior DUP figure has alleged.
The party has found itself at odds with many of the Province’s key business groups, who have given the draft agreement a cautious welcome.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has also backed the deal and called on the DUP to follow suit, warning that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the Province.
But DUP Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson has vowed that the party will stand firm in its opposition to the plan, which it feels could potentially lead to the break up of the UK.
Accusing industry figures of “dancing to the government’s tune”, the East Antrim MP told the News Letter: “These groups are the puppets of the NI Office.
“It is my knowledge they were brought in before the deal was even unveiled, encouraged to go out and promote it, which they have done, and quite clearly they haven’t thought of the consequences for their own members.”
Echoing remarks made by party colleague Sir Jeffrey Donaldson last week, Mr Wilson said he was convinced the UFU had not read the 585-page document, adding: “They are simply miming the words which have been given to them by the NIO.
“I don’t see how any business or farming organisation can say there will be no damage done to the people who they represent, given the restrictions being imposed on their members by the EU under the terms of this deal.”
Responding to Mr Wilson’s remarks, a UFU spokesperson said the organisation did not receive advance sight of the withdrawal agreement before it was published.
They added: “No UFU staff or members of the leadership team have been contacted by government officials, or anyone connected to the government, to ask us to speak out in support of the deal.
“The UFU reached its position based on the organisation’s long-held understanding that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for farming in Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster has said those attempting to sell the current deal are using the threat of no deal as the only other option.
She added: “I appreciate the concerns people have about a no deal but this should not be a binary choice. It is absolutely clear that it is time to work for a better deal.”