The DUP will wait and see the detail of Theresa May’s Brexit plan before assessing the future of its deal propping up the Tory government, Nigel Dodds said yesterday.
The party’s deputy leader and most senior Westminster MP was speaking amid uncertainty as to the meaning of a letter from the prime minister to him and Arlene Foster.
The letter, which was a reply to a letter to Downing Street from the DUP duo, met differing interpretations after its contents were reported in The Times yesterday.
The party needed ‘confidence’ for its so-called confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives to stick, Mr Dodds said.
Some observers have said the letter means that Theresa May was ruling out a so-called ‘back stop to the back stop,’ in which Northern Ireland would forever be tied by EU trade policy and other commentators reached the opposite conclusion.
There are also interpretations that the letter shows that the government wants the Province bound by EU single market rules.
Asked his own assessment of the letter, Mr Dodds told the News Letter that “the direction of travel in that letter appears to be one where she is prepared to contemplate a situation where Northern Ireland is under single market rules for goods and agrifoods, as long as the backstop is in place, which causes real problems if we ever try to get out of the backstop, because the EU will use that against Northern Ireland and against the UK”.
Mr Dodds added: “Back in December the prime minister committed in paragraph 50 that the Northern Ireland executive and assembly would have the final say, she hasn’t committed to actually doing that [in the letter].
“That is part of the Joint Report [between UK and EU] just as much as paragraph 49, which we opposed, and she needs to hold to her commitments over and over again where she said the whole of the UK would be leaving the customs union and the single market.”
The North Belfast MP said: “We can’t have a border down the Irish Sea. If there is a border down the Irish Sea, either customs or regulatory, the problem is that — not immediately — but in years to come, this could have the effect of causing major divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Asked what the uncertainty and speculation means for the confidence and supply agreement between the DUP and the Conservative Party that has enabled Mrs May to govern without having a Tory majority in the House of Commons, Mr Dodds said:
“Well, we have always been very, very clear that this Brexit had to be delivered in terms which was a proper Brexit for the United Kingdom and didn’t endanger the Union.
“So let us see what happens in cabinet, let us see what the government brings forward. We will make our decisions on the basis of what she finally brings forward.”
The News Letter then asked if the deal was in jeopardy.
“Well the confidence and supply is about confidence,” Mr Dodds said, emphasising that word before adding “and supply.”
He added: “You know we have to have confidence if she is going to get supply.”
Mr Dodds acknowledged that the letter seemed to be an attempt to give reassurance.
“Of course until we see the legal text itself, the final details, we will not be able to make up our mind.”
And he said that the letter had not ruled out the so-called ‘backstop to the backstop,’ if all else fails, which is a Northern Ireland-specific stricture that it must stay in the customs union and single market.
“[Theresa May] hasn’t ruled that out. That is the other problem on the customs side of it, she still hasn’t ruled out the backstop to the backstop being in there and certainly the EU aren’t ruling it out at this stage.”