A senior DUP figure has branded warnings by Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley that a no deal Brexit could put the Union at risk as “palpable nonsense”.
In a sign that opposition to the prime minister’s much-maligned EU withdrawal agreement has not softened over the festive period, Sammy Wilson savaged suggestions that a no-deal scenario would pose a danger to the Belfast Agreement.
Hitting back at Ms Bradley’s claims, the DUP MP told the News Letter: “The only thing which threatens the UK’s constitutional integrity is the PM’s deal.”
In her new year message, printed by The Sun newspaper, the NI secretary praised the draft deal as she warned of the dangers of a no-deal.
Ms Bradley said such a scenario risked putting the Union in peril, adding: “No deal would disrupt the UK as a whole but would be felt even more keenly in NI.
“I fear that could also undermine consent for the political settlement in NI, including for the Union itself.”
But Mr Wilson urged people to “ignore” Ms Bradley, dismissing her warning as a “bald statement supported by not one scrap of evidence”.
It comes as the DUP once again warned the PM they will hold her to her word on securing changes to her deal, with the party reiterating its opposition to the proposed treaty’s Irish border backstop.
With a vote on the negotiated exit deal due in a matter of weeks, the Tory government is trying desperately to convince MPs – including many in its own fractured party – to back the deal.
In her message, Ms Bradley claimed the alternatives to the plan are “no Brexit or a no-deal Brexit” .
But Mr Wilson, whose party has pledged to vote down the deal when it comes before the House of Commons, branded the remarks “nonsensical, dishonest and contradictory”.
Stating that Mrs May’s deal posed a real risk to the constitutional integrity of the UK, he told the News Letter: “The PM’s withdrawal agreement has at its very heart the need to treat NI differently from the rest of the UK, and cut us off from trade arrangements the UK might make with other countries.”
Regarding her claims that a no-deal posed a threat to the Union, the East Antrim MP told the News Letter: “There is absolutely no way a no-deal would threaten the Union.
“If we left the EU without a deal in place, there would be no new arrangements with the Irish Republic. Dublin would not have any additional say in Northern Ireland, and there would be no new border checks between NI and rest of UK. It leaves us fully part of UK and fully out of EU.”
On Ms Bradley’s claim that a rejection of the withdrawal deal could lead to no Brexit, Mr Wilson stated: “Anyone who understands parliamentary procedure would understand that the only way we would finish up with no Brexit is if the prime minister and the government decided to abandon the Article 50 date of leaving on March 29.
“No one can force that abandonment. There is no automatic means by which it can happen. Parliament could not dictate it. There would have to be a conscious decision by the government to renounce the referendum, abandon its manifesto and abort the core policy of this parliamentary session.
“In the process it would split the Conservative Party into pieces and ensure they lost the next election.”
Following a meeting in Downing Street yesterday, a DUP spokesperson said: “The PM has committed to secure changes. We will be holding her to her word. We want to work with the government in the coming days to ensure the UK leaves with a good deal.”