The DUP has branded as “nonsense” claims by a Cabinet minister that there is only a 50-50 chance of Brexit happening if MPs reject the prime minister’s contested deal.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson was speaking after leading Brexiteer Liam Fox made the claim in the Sunday Times.
Mr Fox said the only way to be “100% certain” the UK will depart is if MPs vote for Prime Minister’s Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, adding: “If we were not to vote for that, I’m not sure I would give it much more than 50-50.”
His comments come amid claims that Julian Smith, the Tory chief whip, has raised pressure on Conservative MPs over Christmas.
Mr Fox warned colleagues it is a “matter of honour” to back Mrs May and that failure to do so would be “incendiary”.
And he added that he would rather accept a deal that falls short than risk “no Brexit”.
He also would “like to see more” EU concessions on the Irish backstop, but if the choice was between “a very small risk of the backstop coming into existence or a much bigger risk of no Brexit, I’m very clear which way I would come down” he said.
The backstop is the section of the proposed deal which claims to guarantee an open border on the island of Ireland, but which sceptics say could weaken the Union indefinitely.
UK-EU talks on it have been ongoing for the past fortnight and MPs are to vote on the overall deal in mid-January.
But Mr Wilson branded Mr Fox’s arguments “nonsense” and added that he expected “every dirty tactic” in the next week.
“If Amber Rudd or Philip Hammond or any of the other Remainers had come out and said this they would just have been laughed at,” he said. “But May has now recruited, by whatever means, a Brexiteer to give this message. But to be truthful the opposition to her deal is so deep this will not sway too many people.”
Mr Fox was presenting MPs with misleading options, he said, but the DUP is “very relaxed” about exiting the EU without a deal.
“Many MPs are angry that £39bn has been given away in talks for nothing in return and the EU has made it clear that this is only a down payment with regards future trade deals. There are also increasing concerns about the security implications of her deal.”
Many millions of jobs in Europe depend on it trading with the UK, he said. The EU also exports £92bn to the UK per year more than it imports from it, which puts the UK in a very strong negotiating position, he added.