DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds says his party has made domestic progress on the Irish backstop, but the rejection of the Prime Minister’s proposed Brexit deal by MPs for a third time shows government must press Brussels to change its proposed treaty.
Mr Dodds was speaking after the vote today which saw MPs reject Theresa May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement with the EU by 344 votes to 286, a majority of 58.
The vote means the UK has missed the EU deadline to delay Brexit to 22 May and leave with a deal.
The DUP believes the backstop section of the proposed treaty would create trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and, over time, weaken the union.
Because of its confidence and supply deal with the Tory party and its ten MPs, it holds a significant balance of power in the process, much to its critics’ disdain.
In a statement Mr Dodds said: “The Democratic Unionist Party has consistently and repeatedly indicated that we could not support the Withdrawal Agreement because of the construction of the backstop. We have reached this view from a principled position as we do not believe the withdrawal agreement is the best way forward for the United Kingdom.
We have encouraged the Government to do, as Dominic Raab has said, to return to Brussels on these issues and not simply to accept the position of the European Union as being unalterable.
“We have said that were the backstop to become operational Northern Ireland would sit in a separate legal position from the rest of the United Kingdom in economic and trade terms.
“In those circumstances there is the strong possibility that we could have a long-term outcome whereby Northern Ireland would inevitably pull away from its biggest trading market in Great Britain as there would be new internal barriers within the United Kingdom.
“In our recent discussions with the Government good progress has been made on how domestic legislation would assist in ensuring the economic integrity of the UK as a whole and recognising Northern Ireland’s particular situation sharing a land border with the European Union.
“However, regretfully the fact remains that sufficient progress has not been made.
“We have encouraged the Government to do, as Dominic Raab has said, to return to Brussels on these issues and not simply to accept the position of the European Union as being unalterable. The Government must use the remaining time to deal with widely held concerns across the House of Commons.”
He added: “The United Kingdom’s long-term relationship with the European Union will need to accord with our key objectives to ensure the economic integrity of the United Kingdom.”
“We deeply regret the numerous missed opportunities by those who negotiated on behalf of the UK to listen to our warnings about the dangers of the backstop and to take steps to remedy those deficiencies.”
Sinn Féin said it is to meet EU leaders to insist that the treaty is not reopened.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “Today we again witnessed British political circus at Westminster and as a result we now moving closer to a no-deal crash-out Brexit.
“Westminster has rejected for a third time the Withdrawal Agreement which includes minimum safeguards for Ireland, North and South.
“The EU has made clear that this agreement will not be reopened, renegotiated or its protections reduced.
“The behaviour of the DUP has been reckless and outrageous.
“They have been seduced by the games at Westminster at the cost of farmers, the economy and the views of the majority in the north.”
Sinn Féin will be travelling to Brussels on Monday to meet with Michel Barnier and other European leaders to press the case that in a “crash out Brexit” the EU must continue to act “in the interests of all Ireland”.
SDLP Brexit Spokesman Daniel McCrossan MLA has said that the Government should now request a long extension to the Article 50 process.
The West Tyrone MLA said that a two week timeline is not enough to substantially alter negotiations and that it was “time to face up to the fact that this iteration of Brexit is dead in the water”.
He added: “What’s needed now is a long extension to the Article 50 period for all parties to calmly and rationally reflect on where we go from here. The grotesque political circus at Westminster needs to stop.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said he welcomed “the further defeat of the Deal of Betrayal” and called for a no-deal Brexit.
He said: “Instead of further national humiliation, which comes from more grovelling to Brussels and awaiting their next decision on our future, the Government should proceed without deflection to conclude preparations for leaving on World Trade terms on 12 April. That’s what we should have done today, but the ongoing attempts to thwart Brexit only brought us to another impasse.
“It remains correct that no deal is better than a bad deal, which Mrs May’s concoction of vassalage most certainly is.”