DUP MP Gregory Campbell has rubbished suggestions of a split within the party, following the failure of the Stormont negotiations.
With Arlene Foster declaring there is “no prospect” of a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein, both parties have clashed over who was to blame for the collapse of the talks process.
Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill claimed her party had “reached an accommodation with the leadership of the DUP”, but added that Mrs Foster and her negotiating team “failed to close the deal”.
Some political commentators have suggested the DUP leadership was on the verge of agreeing to Sinn Fein’s demand for an Irish language act, only to become “spooked” at the 11th hour by the virulent reaction from grassroots unionism.
However, East Londonderry MP Mr Campbell rejected this analysis as “totally wrong”.
He told the News Letter: “That is not what happened at all. We have had 13 months of talks and we have said on countless occasions that we would not be buying into an Irish language act.
“We said it ad nauseam and we relayed these views to Sinn Fein both publicly and privately.”
Mr Campbell said that up until the middle of last week, there had no been no indications “from anyone” that a deal was imminent.
He added: “All of a sudden towards the end of last week, just a day or two ahead of Sinn Fein’s ard fheis on Saturday, reports started circulating in the media that a deal was close to be signed.
“People can surely read between the lines as to what happened here,” Mr Campbell said.
“It was not the DUP who indicated a deal was doable. Sinn Fein was looking for a retirement present for Gerry Adams at the ard fheis. They hoped that by putting pressure on us that we would capitulate.
“But it backfired and they ended up with egg on their faces.”
When word spread that a deal could be on the cards, it prompted Theresa May and Leo Varadkar to travel to Belfast on Monday in a bid to get an agreement across the line.
Mr Campbell said that the visit of the two prime ministers had “only served to make the situation worse”.
“We had consistently warned that things were being pushed too far and too fast, and that a deal was not infact imminent,” he added.
Some political analysts have also suggested that Mrs Foster’s attempts to sell a deal had met with fierce resistance from some members in the lower echelons of the party.
TUV leader Jim Allister told the News Letter: “I think it is clear that the DUP leadership wanted to do a deal but were pulled up short by unionist grassroots. I think Mrs Foster got carried away in the negotiations and didn’t keep in touch with her support base.”
Mr Campbell rejected these claims and said: “It is a false assertion that there is division within the DUP.
“The outcome of the talks process does not in any way call into question Arlene Foster’s leadership and there have been no calls within the party for her to go.”
Mr Campbell claimed his party had been left with “no alternative” but to call a halt to proceedings on Wednesday afternoon.
“A budget has to be set next week and it would have been irresponsible to continue with the talks when there was no prospect of securing a deal,” he added.
“We wanted a deal, but we wanted a good deal, not just one for the sake of it.”
Secretary of State Karen Bradley is to update Parliament on the political situation in the Provinve when the Commons returns from reccess next week.
In a statement she said: “We now need to consider practical steps. In the continued absence of an Executive, other challenging decisions will have to be taken by the UK government.”