Sammy Wilson: Boris Johnson will not want to pick a fight with DUP ahead of election

DUP MP Sammy Wilson
DUP MP Sammy Wilson
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Sammy Wilson has said the UK government will “not want to pick a fight with the DUP” ahead of a general election.

It comes after suggestions that Boris Johnson may be contemplating a Northern Ireland-only backstop as an escape route from the Brexit crisis.

There has been mounting speculation that the prime minister is considering endorsing the move in a bid to make good on his promise to leave the UK “do or die” by October 31.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday said the PM has “already ruled out a Northern Ireland-only backstop because it would be anti-democratic, unconstitutional and would mean our core industries would be subject to EU rules without any means of changing them”.

The party’s Brexit spokesperson Mr Wilson also played down the rumours and argued that the PM “could not logically” be considering such a move.

The idea of a NI-only backstop was originally agreed between former PM Theresa May and the EU back in December 2017.

But the DUP – who then propped up the minority Tory administration – reacted angrily to the move, forcing Mrs May to change tact and adopt a UK-wide backstop instead.

While Mrs May was never able to get her withdrawal agreement through the Commons, some commentators are suggesting that the PM – who previously voted in favour of the treaty – could be aiming to resurrect the deal, albeit with the UK-wide backstop revised to apply to only NI.

However, Mr Wilson told the News Letter: “We are not getting any indication from the government that is what they are proposing to do and indeed it is contradictory to what the PM has said on numerous occasions.

“He has said the backstop in its entirety would have to be removed from any agreement, and that he will not do anything to compromise the union between the UK and NI.

“No one can say for certain and you always have to be wary of how people can change direction, but if you look at the evidence of all he has said and done, it just doesn’t stack up.”

With the Tory administration having lost its working majority, the support of the DUP’s 10 MPs are now largely irrelevant, whether they support Mr Johnson or not.

However, Mr Wilson said the PM will be keenly aware that, with a general election likely on the horizon, he will not want to make an enemy of his confidence and supply partners the DUP.

Mr Wilson added: “If the government did decide to go down this road and thought it could get a majority to pass this in the Commons, we might finish up in a fight with the them.

“I suspect they are not going to want to pick a fight with the DUP any time before a general election, as they don’t know what the outcome is going to be and they don’t know how dependant they are going to be on us.”

It has been reported that polling and modelling discussed by senior Number 10 figures suggests the Tories would win around 295 to 300 seats in an election – short of the 325 needed for an outright majority.