‘Now is not the time for unionists to be relaxed,’ Lord Empey warns DUP

Sir Reg Empey.
Sir Reg Empey.
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A unionist peer has accused the DUP of “breathtaking complacency” amid growing concerns that Boris Johnson is preparing to sacrifice Northern Ireland in order to secure Brexit.

Despite his assurances to the contrary, senior Tories have said the prime minister is considering agreeing to a NI-only backstop as a solution to get a Brexit deal through the Commons.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said he “quite relaxed about the way things are going”.

However, former UUP leader Sir Reg Empey warned: “This is not the time for unionists to be relaxed. The DUP don’t seem to realise that the enemy is at the gates here.”

Meanwhile, TUV leader Jim Allister claimed any attempt to hive off NI from the rest of the UK would be in breach of the Act of Union and could be subject to a legal challenge.

Following the growing speculation that the government could pivot towards a NI-only backstop, DUP leader Arlene Foster said the PM had already ruled out such a move as “anti-democratic, unconstitutional”.

For the past two years, the DUP has enjoyed substantial influence over the government, with its 10 MPs helping to prop up the minority Tory administration.

However, with the government having now lost its slim majority in the Commons, the support of the DUP is now largely irrelevant to Mr Johnson in this current Parlaiment.

Lord Empey told the News Letter: “The DUP’s juice has run out. Ken Clarke and his colleagues who were sacked by the government are really the swing vote now.

“I think the government has given up on this Parliament and they are only interested in the next one.”

The peer said he believes Mr Johnson will now seek to resurrect his predecessor Therea May’s withdrawal agreement, albeit with the UK-wide backstop replaced by an NI-specific one.

He added: “All those Tory MPs who the DUP had over at their conferences, the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, all turned Turk when push came to shove and voted for Theresa May’s deal.

“I believe the government will try to get some minor tweaks to the withdrawal agreement to take the bad look off it and say they secured changes in the hopes of getting it through the Commons.”

Meanwhile, North Antrim MLA Mr Allister said an NI-only backstop would be “unconstitutional”.

He explained: “Article 6 of the Act of Union 1800 is still law. Its meaning is clear in declaring (in today’s parlance) that all parts of the UK shall share in the same customs union and, moreover, shall be on the same footing in any treaties made with foreign powers.

“Abandoning NI to the EU’s customs union would subject us to a different tariff regime which would offend Article 6.

“So, any attempt to allow NI to become an annex of the EU, set apart from the customs union and single market of the UK, is likely to face fundamental legal challenge.”