A DUP MP has said the prime minister “must be mad” after Theresa May suggested a delay to the UK’s departure from the EU in order to deal with the Irish border issue.
Sammy Wilson declared himself “appalled” with the Mrs May’s handling of the negotiations, saying “she only has herself to blame” for the EU’s “intransigent” stance.
He hit out at her decision to agree to the inclusion of the Irish border backstop in the withdrawal agreement that has now become a major stumbling block.
The DUP’s deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, also heaped pressure on the under-fire prime minister with further criticism of the proposal to extend the transition period, stressing that it offers “nothing significant” on the backstop proposals.
Mrs May told leaders of the remaining EU member states in Brussels that she was ready to consider an extension by “a matter of months” of the transition period, which is currently due to stretch until December 2020.
The transition – during which the UK would remain in the single market and customs union and subject to EU rules – is intended to provide time for authorities and officials to prepare for new arrangements following the official date of Brexit in March 2019.
At a press conference in Brussels, Mrs May said an extension to the transition period “could be a further solution to this issue of the backstop in Northern Ireland”.
Mr Wilson, however, dismissed the proposal as “the maddest idea I’ve ever heard”.
He added: “If anything this will encourage the EU in their intransigence. If they knew the negotiations were being pushed right up against the next election, why would they be conciliatory in these negotiations?”
The East Antrim MP said Mrs May should not have agreed to settle the so-called ‘EU divorce bill’, or signed up to the backstop proposals.
“At the very beginning she threw away the one negotiating lever that she had, namely the £39 billion that they (the EU) want to get their hands on,” Mr Wilson said.
“She then made the negotiations even more difficult by agreeing to this nonsense of the backstop which has now dominated all of the negotiations.
“It has led to her having to make a choice between breaking up the United Kingdom or keeping the United Kingdom as a whole in the single market and customs union – in other words not leaving the EU.
“To a certain extent she has only herself to blame. She accepted the dictates as to how the negotiations would take place and the sequencing of them by the EU.”
He added: “She’s got to get tough now and stop this pussy-footing around.
“She is being made a fool of. What’s even worse is she is now going to put us in a position that, six years after voting to leave the EU, we will still be in the EU. And we’ll have no prospect of leaving because there will be no incentive to negotiate with us. I’m appalled at what this government has negotiated. There’s no other way to describe it.”
His party colleague, North Belfast MP Mr Dodds, said: “An extension of the transition period does nothing significant on the key issue of the unacceptable EU backstop proposals.
“An extended transition period means the United Kingdom continues to ‘pay but have no say’ in Brussels.
“Such an extension would cost the United Kingdom billions of pounds, yet our fundamental problem with the EU proposal remains.”
He added: “The DUP wants a Brexit deal that works for our nearest neighbours in the European Union but which respects the constitutional and economic integrity of the precious Union.
“The backstop as proposed by the EU would undermine the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.”
The proposed extension was also criticised by Tory MPs, including arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg who branded the idea “a rather poor attempt at kicking the can down the road”.
Mr Rees-Mogg told Sky News an extended transition period “means we are in the EU for longer when the EU can make rules for the UK over which we would have no say and we would be paying for the privilege”.
He said an extension would not break the deadlock in withdrawal negotiations, because the EU would still demand a “backstop”.