The DUP has predicted “developments” in the government’s Brexit position this weekend, after the party threatened to withdraw support for Theresa May if she caves in to Brussel’s demands for a border in the Irish Sea.
Downing Street has suggested a temporary customs arrangement between the EU and UK as a whole, with the expectation that a permanent future deal would be in place by the end of 2021.
The EU has criticised that plan and the prime minister faces dissension within her own ranks.
Mrs May relies on her DUP allies to prop up her minority government in key votes, but the party says it is ready to block this month’s budget and potentially topple the prime minister unless they receive sufficient reassurances that there will be no customs or trade checks between NI and the rest of the UK post-Brexit.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson told the News Letter on Thursday that his party was “not bluffing” and warned the PM: “Do not take our votes for granted.”
The radical strategy has led to a rift between the DUP and their partners in government, with some Tory MPs taking to social media to criticise Mr Wilson’s remarks. But speaking after a meeting party colleagues in Portdown on Friday, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds seemed confident the gambit could pay off.
“I think there could be developments over the weekend in terms of the government’s own position and the Cabinet, so we will remain focused on the priorities for Northern Ireland,” he added.
“Let’s hope that we get a deal, but in the case of a no-deal scenario we will have to manage that, but our aim is to get a sensible deal but one that respects the integrity of the UK.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said that while there was a “fluid negotiation” with regards to Brexit, the DUP felt “it was necessary to be very clear that for us the one red line in relation to the UK was one that we will stand by come what may”.
Following Mr Wilson’s threat to withdraw parliamentary support for the PM, Tory MP Nick Boles MP tweeted: “Conservative leaders are chosen by Conservative MPs and Conservative Party members. Not by MPs of any other party. And we respond no better to threats than proud Ulster men or women do.”
Mr Boles’ Conservative colleague Heidi Allen MP tweeted a reference to the £1bn confidence-and-supply deal between the two parties, stating: “I really don’t wish to be rude to Sammy (genuinely), but it does beg the question, why the heck did we pay £1bn for this! Hate to say I told you so...”
Meanwhile, Dominic Raab has said the UK will not accept a Brexit deal that involves being indefinitely locked into a customs union with the EU.
The Brexit Secretary said that a provision on a customs union which was not “finite” would fail to deliver the result of the 2016 referendum.
Downing Street has insisted that Mrs May would never agree a Brexit deal with the EU which “traps” the UK permanently in a customs union.
l Morning View, page 10