Suggestions that the Irish government could abandon its “Brit-bashing” stance and work with the UK to prevent a no-deal Brexit are “simply not credible”, according to a senior DUP figure.
Sammy Wilson’s remarks came after former UUP leader Sir Reg Empey called on Dublin to adopt a “more flexible” approach, adding that bilateral negotiations between the UK and the Republic could help solve the thorny issue of the Irish border backstop.
With the prospect of Theresa May’s draft withdrawal deal being voted down in the Commons next month looking increasingly likely, the EU, UK and Irish Republic have all stepped up their planning for a no-deal scenario.
But Lord Empey claimed an alternative to the prime minister’s much-maligned deal is for London and Dublin to forge a fresh accord as a matter of urgency.
He told the News Letter: “If the UK Government is using its brains, and if the Republic is prepared to be more flexible, we should have bilateral negotiations and go and see Brussels together with a plan.”
Lord Empey added that MLAs should be involved in any such talks, adding: “If the Assembly comes back it could very well have a role to play, and if necessary Westminster could devolve powers to Stormont to act on its behalf in the matter of cross-border trade.”
With less than 100 days to go before the UK leaves the EU, the News Letter asked Lord Empey when he envisaged such negotiations could take place.
He replied: “I see no reason why these talks can’t start now; what are we waiting for?
“We should have done it two years ago. Unfortunately Dublin turned its back on us and it has now come back to bite them. Instead of throwing their lot in with the EU 27 they should have talked to us.”
However, DUP Brexit spokesperson Mr Wilson dismissed Lord Empey’s comments as “simply not credible”, adding: “The chances of the Irish coming to their senses are extremely remote.”
The East Antrim MP said there was “no way” the Republic would contemplate doing a deal with the UK over Brexit due to the political ramifications of such a move.
“This is all driven by the fact that Fine Gael do not want to be outflanked by Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein on Brexit,” he added.
“They are thinking about the next election in the Republic and are certainly not going to change their Brit-bashing stance to a Brit-embracing one at this stage.”
The EU and Irish government both published contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit this week, but crucially, neither made mention of how the Irish border issue would be addressed.
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds has said the fact that the border had been omitted from the plans exposed the backstop as a “con trick”.
Lord Empey echoed this assessment, stating: “The backstop is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There was never going to be a hard border, it was all hogwash from the start. It is politically inconceivable that any Irish government would put a hard border in place.”