Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has said a DUP MP’s claims that a Brexit deal is likely contrast with the comments of Amber Rudd, who says the government is not trying to get agreement.
Amber Rudd, who quit Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that she had “not seen enough work going into trying to get a deal” with the EU.
She said: “When I asked Number 10 for a summary of what the plan was for actually getting a deal, I was sent a one-page summary.”
UUP leader Robin Swann contrasted those comments with those of DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who told the Kennedy Summer School in Co Wexford that a deal with the EU is still possible before October 31.
Mr Swann said: “Northern Ireland needs a deal, the rest of the UK needs a deal and so does the EU. But to get a deal there needs to be genuine engagement, and if what Amber Rudd is saying is truly reflective of what is happening in the inner echelons of the Johnson government, then it should give great concern to everyone who has the best interests of the United Kingdom at heart.”
He continued: “If Sir Jeffrey is privy to information that Amber Rudd wasn’t as a government minister, then he needs to let Northern Ireland businesses and farmers know. The least he should do is explain why he believes we will get a deal when Amber Rudd is saying the opposite.
“What does he know that Amber Rudd didn’t?
“Northern Ireland needs a deal, the rest of the UK needs a deal and so does the EU. But to get a deal there needs to be genuine engagement, and if what Amber Rudd is saying is truly reflective of what is happening in the inner echelons of the Johnson government, then it should give great concern to everyone who has the best interests of the United Kingdom at heart.
“Blindly charging towards a no-deal Brexit without detailed thought being given to the impact it will have on the constituent parts of the UK could have huge implications for the Union.”
Asked to respond to those comments, Sir Jeffrey told the News Letter: “I can appreciate Robin Swann’s bewilderment given that he is clearly out of the loop. Without any representation in the House of Commons, obviously it is difficult for him to keep up.”
He said he would “welcome the engagement of the UUP” and their support for alternatives to the backstop.
The DUP’s chief whip at Westminster said, however, that the “hand of the UK government” has been weakened by last week’s Bill to block a no-deal Brexit.
“Politics are the art of the possible and I have learned enough from our own peace process in Northern Ireland to know that you never give up and settle for second best.
“You keep pushing, right to the last minute, to get the accommodation that both sides can sign up to. We’ve got several weeks yet until the 31st of October and I believe that is ample time to find a way forward that both Brussels and London, as well as Dublin and Belfast can sign up to.”
He said Mr Johnson is likely to discuss alternative arrangements during a visit to Dublin today to meet with his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
“The prime minister is going to Dublin to meet with the Irish prime minister and I know that there have been conversations taking place to look at alternative options to the backstop. This is something that we are pushing very hard on.”
He added: “I think it’s encouraging that on the backstop there is no-one in parliament seriously arguing that it should be accepted. I think that’s a measure of the success we’ve had in getting our message across that the backstop is harmful to Northern Ireland.
“We’ve got that message across and now what we need to do is work with the government to bring forward the alternatives that would replace the backstop.”
Addressing the impact of the Bill designed to block a no-deal Brexit on negotiations, Sir Jeffrey said: “I think that the bill to block no deal certainly weakens the hand of the UK government in negotiations with Brussels and I think that has been a deliberate tactic by those who are now clearly determined to stop Brexit altogether.
“The prime minister has to persevere. He has time, still, to bring forward alternative proposals to Brussels.”
Sir Jeffrey added: “If there is a general election I think the mood of the country is such that the Conservatives may well come back with a majority.”
He added: “Our primary objective in relation to Brexit is to get a deal. We will continue to support the government in pursuit of that.”
He said that if alternative arrangements “re rejected by Brussels it seems that the opposition parties will push for an extension to Article 50 but, in the end, whether it’s the 31st of October, the 31st of November, or whenever, we still face the same issues.
“The people of the UK voted for Brexit. We either leave with a deal or we leave with no deal”.