Dodds backs May to face down advocates for ‘Irish Sea border’

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds dismissed the 'leaks and rumours' surrounding the UK staying in the EU customs union
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds dismissed the 'leaks and rumours' surrounding the UK staying in the EU customs union

A series of “leaks and rumours” around Theresa May’s commitment to a full Brexit have been dismissed by Nigel Dodds as an attempt to exert pressure on the government during negotiations.

The DUP MP for North Belfast was commenting after renewed speculation the prime minister could bow to Parliamentary pressure to keep the UK in a customs union with the EU following Brexit.

“Since the commencement of negotiations on the UK’s exit from the European Union there have been a series of ‘leaks’ and rumours, most of which are an attempt to exert pressure on the UK government in those talks,” Mr Dodds said.

“The government has restated its commitment to leaving the customs union and it is in the European Union’s interests as well as the United Kingdom’s to secure a positive outcome.

“Behind the sabre rattling there remains the opportunity to secure such an outcome and the UK government has been positive and proactive in putting forward proposals to achieve this.”

Mr Dodds said there “can be absolutely no question of any border down the Irish Sea,” and added: “What is fundamental, however, is that the arrangements apply to the entirety of the United Kingdom.

“A new customs partnership and an ambitious free trade deal between the UK and EU can deliver the best outcome for all sides. That is where the focus should be rather than reheating old arguments around the customs union.”

However, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called on Mrs May to “face down the small minority of extremists” in her own party he claimed were “extreme Brexiteers” risking the country’s economic future.

“It is decision time for the British prime minister Theresa May,” he said.

“Allow the future economic interests of these islands to be dictated by the extreme Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Liam Fox or finally face them down and get rid of them. I would confidently predict that the consensus of opinion across these islands would shed very few tears at the prospect of their political demise – we’ll all end up being the better for it.”

Mr Eastwood said business leaders were overwhelmingly in favour of the UK maintaining close economic ties with the EU.

“Less than a year away from the official Brexit leaving date, huge uncertainty continues to plague the Brexit negotiations and continues to damage our politics and our economy.

“Every credible business organisation on these islands supports continued alignment with the customs union and the single market.”

He added: “It remains the only way to prevent a hardening of the border in Ireland and it remains the best way of protecting the economic interests of both Ireland and Britain.”