DUP welcomes legal guarantee of no customs border in Irish Sea

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Theresa May has agreed to give a legal guarantee that there will be no customs border in the Irish Sea after Brexit.

The Prime Minister was accused of “caving in” to the demands of hardline Tory Brexiteers by agreeing a number of concessions to the Customs Bill, including a legal promise of no customs border between NI and rest of UK post-Brexit.

Sammy Wilson

Sammy Wilson

While the SDLP and Alliance have claimed the move will make the prospect of a no deal Brexit more likely, the DUP has hailed it as a positive step that will preserve peace.

DUP Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson said he was pleased that the amendment would effectively kill off the so called ‘backstop option’, whereby Northern Ireland would remain in the customs union in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

“The backstop was a surrender to the Irish Republic and to the EU on a point which was not necessary anyhow,” he told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster.

The amendment passed through the Commons without a vote on Monday night, but two other amendments tabled by Tory Brexiteers scraped through by just three votes in the Commons.

Brexit.

Brexit.

SDLP Brexit spokesperson Claire Hanna has said the people of Northern Ireland were “the real causalities tonight”.

The MLA for South Belfast said: “Time and time again, the SDLP are crucified for our willingness, and in fact desire to take our seats in Westminster for reasons as tonight perfectly illustrated.

“The SDLP would have said no to reckless Tory Brexiteers and the ideologically driven DUP who care more about delivering on their facade of ‘taking back control’ than actually delivering for their constituents.

“The writing is on the wall, and written in bold; Remain voters and nationalism has been let down and brought one step closer to catastrophic ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

“There are many ways to influence Brexit but this limping, destructive government just won by three votes. Ten DUP MPs are chasing extreme Brexit and seven Sinn Fein MPs don’t show up - either or both could have comfortably protected the interests of people here.”

Meanwhile, Alliance Brexit spokesperson Stephen Farry said Parliament has “undermined the interests” of Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement by passing amendments backed by hard Brexiteers.

He added that the latest amendment meant the PrM “has dug a deeper hole” in the Brexit process.

“The Government has managed to undermine its own White Paper within less than a week. It was already flawed but now seems doomed,” he said,

“It is further disappointing Parliament sought to rule out any custom checks down the Irish Sea, without the opposition even forcing a division.

“While that approach seems superficially sensible, it betrays a lack of understanding of the Brexit negotiations, and the interests of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and avoiding a devastating hard border on the island of Ireland.

“This amendment makes it difficult to see how any Withdrawal Agreement can be finalised and along with it any transition deal. Any no deal outcome would be catastrophic. But unless the UK Government can perform a U-turn, this is where we are heading. Time is running out.”

The string of concessions infuriated Conservative Remainers who refused to back the amendments to the Customs Bill.

And the PM was hit by another resignation when Defence Minister Guto Bebb voted against the Government, effectively quitting his frontbench role.

Some 14 Tory rebels voted against the Government-backed Tory Eurosceptic clause that would prevent the UK collecting tariffs on behalf of the EU unless it agreed to do the same.

An amendment that would stop the UK from joining the EU’s VAT regime saw 11 Conservative rebels.

Mrs May inched through with the support of three Labour MPs, Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer, on both.

Amid the turmoil, the Government tabled a motion calling for the current parliamentary session to be cut short.

MPs will vote on whether to start their summer recess on Thursday instead of next Tuesday.

The move is likely to outrage many members of the public concerned about the divisions over Brexit and ticking clock counting down to exit day.

But an early holiday would stymie Tory MPs plotting against the increasingly politically fragile premier.

Mrs May told MPs the Brexiteer amendments she accepted did not change her Chequers blueprint for Brexit.

But Labour MP Stephen Kinnock accused the PM of “capitulating” and said the Chequers deal was now “dead in the water”.

Mrs May faces further danger today, with pro-EU Tories tabling amendments to the Trade Bill, which returns to the Commons.