May should be more like Trump in her approach to EU: Wilson

A senior DUP MP has slammed Theresa May's Brexit blueprint as 'flawed and weak-kneed' and urged the prime minister to adopt a tougher stance in negotiations with Brussels.

Tuesday, 17th July 2018, 5:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th July 2018, 5:18 pm
Theresa May, pictured here with Donald Trump during his UK visit last week, has been urged to be more like the US president in her negotiations with the EU

Sammy Wilson called on the government to follow the “Donald Trump-style bull in a china shop” approach when it comes to the EU, claiming it would yield a better outcome for the UK.

His remarks come after the PM narrowly avoided a defeat on its Customs Bill by agreeing to Brexiteers’ demands to change its wording.

One of the amendments included a legal guarantee that there will be no customs border in the Irish Sea after Brexit.

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The governments position was hammered out at a meeting in Chequers almost two weeks ago

While critics have said accepting the changes to the legislation mean the prime minister’s recently announced Chequers deal was “dead in the water”, Mrs May insisted this was “absolutely wrong” and that the changes were “consistent” with her plan.

DUP Brexit spokesperson Mr Wilson has echoed Mrs May’s remarks, stating that the amendments “don’t change the contents of the Brexit white paper, they simply strengthen it and toughen it up”.

But while he told the News Letter that the DUP did not wish to “undermine” Mrs May’s position, he said the party harboured “grave reservations” towards the Chequers plan.

“In my view the white paper is totally flawed and a sign of weakness in the government and the cautious approach it has adopted to these negotiations,” Mr Wilson said.

“I would have preferred to have seen Mrs May adopt the bull in the china shop approach of Donald Trump, which appears to be much more effective.

“This white paper is a weak-kneed response to EU because the prime minister is trying to fit it around what she thinks the EU will accept.”

Mr Wilson’s comments appear to be somewhat at odds with a statement released on Saturday by the party’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds, which in large part welcomed what had come out of Chequers.

Meanwhile, Mr Wilson felt the UK negotiating team was now in a “much better position” as a result of the amendments passed in the Commons on Monday, adding: “It shows Brussels that the PM has no more room to manoeuvre and they shouldn’t expect any more concessions from her.”

However, he was unsure as to whether Mrs May was “prepared to take advantage” of the latest developments.

“I wonder if she is willing to dig her heels in and use the amendments to strengthen her own hand at the negotiating table. I don’t know that she is,” he said.

The East Antrim MP also said the legal assurance that there will be no post-Brexit customs border between NI and GB 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.

“In law it will now be illegal for the government to negotiate any arrangement which put NI on a different footing to the rest of the UK when it comes to a customs union,” he added.

“I am not saying there will be no kickback from the EU; I am sure they will try their usual blackmail tactics.

“But we now have more than just the verbal commitment of the PM and we are very pleased with that outcome.”

While the amendment passed through the Commons without a vote, two other amendments tabled by Tory Brexiteers scraped through by just three votes.

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

And the prime minister was hit by yet another resignation when defence minister Guto Bebb voted against the government, effectively quitting his front bench 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.

When asked if the amendments to the Customs Bill would increase the prospects of a no deal Brexit, Mr Wilson said: “It all depends on the reaction of the EU.

“If they are keen for a deal then we will start seeing some softening in their rhetoric.

“On the other hand, if they remain as intransigent as they have been, then there is a likelihood we will finish up with no deal.”