The DUP says it will closely study the wording of an amendment, accepted by the government, which seeks to place a time limit on the backstop.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told MPs the government would accept an amendment from Tory former minister Sir Hugo Swire which, among other things, requires the government to secure parliamentary approval to either extend the Brexit transition period or trigger the backstop if no trade deal is concluded by the end of 2020.
The amendment also states the government should obtain “further assurance” from the EU that the Northern Ireland backstop would “only be a temporary arrangement and that, in the event that it comes into force, both parties intend to agree a future relationship or alternative arrangements consistent with the Political Declaration one year after the end of the implementation period”.
MPs have long expressed concern that the backstop arrangement may be permanent.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP chief whip in Westminster, last night said: “We are aware of the amendment from Hugo Swire, and we’ll examine it carefully and will talk to the government about whether such a commitment is legally binding. Clearly for us we want to find a way of addressing concerns about the backstop and so we’ll look at this with interest.”
As to whether this amendment does indeed impose a legally binding commitment on the government, as reported last night by the Press Association, Sir Jeffrey said: “That’s what we want to establish – that’s the key question... Of course, the other issue is whether the EU will accept this. So we’ll wait and see what happens.”
As to whether the DUP would be satisfied with a legally-binding guarantee that the backstop would end after 12 months, Sir Jeffrey said: “We don’t want to pre-empt what is said in the House of Commons, so we’ll consider carefully what is said then we’ll come to a view on it.”
Conservative former minister David Jones, a Brexit supporter, described the backstop as the “most repugnant” element of the deal and said: “What is needed is a rewording of the Withdrawal Agreement.”