The DUP’s Brexit spokesman has said that a year-long delay to Brexit would be preferable to voting for Theresa May’s deal to leave the EU – but the party has given no indication that it agrees with him.
Sammy Wilson made the comments yesterday in an article for The Daily Telegraph in which he spoke positively about the possibility of a lengthy delay to Brexit, something which would necessitate the UK holding European elections in May.
The outspoken East Antrim MP wrote: “Even if we are forced into a one-year extension, we at least would have a say on the things which affect us during that time and would have the right to unilaterally decide to leave at the end of that one-year period through the simple decision of not applying for a further extension.
“Surely this is a better strategy than volunteering to be locked into the prison of the withdrawal deal with the cell door key in the pocket of Michel Barnier?”
“Besides, the fact remains that Brexit can only be lost if the Government decides to abandon pursuing negotiations to leave the EU.”
A DUP source last night said that Mr Wilson was not speaking for the party on the issue.
Mr Wilson’s article was published online shortly after Sky News reported that an unnamed source had said that the DUP now considers a long extension to Brexit to be preferable to the prime minister’s deal.
Sky News said that some in the DUP believe that if the prime minister is forced by MPs to request a longer extension, there may be a change of Conservative leader to someone who could force through a different deal. The broadcaster quoted a source close to the DUP’s recent talks with the government as saying that DUP MPs are moving towards “a long extension, perhaps a year or more, which would mean a change of leader and a different approach”.
In his article for The Daily Telegraph, Mr Wilson said that Mrs May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement “itself means no Brexit” because it would mean that “the EU has the legal power to prevent us ever leaving except on their draconian terms, which would include a Customs Union and adherence to EU regulations.
“Those who negotiated the agreement have been quite open about that. They insist that the terms of the deal will be the basis for any future relationship with the EU.
“They also make it clear that different treatment for Northern Ireland will have to continue. As Leo Varadkar has said, the agreement’s terms settle the arrangements required to keep the Northern Ireland border open.”
Mr Wilson said that the the DUP had “worked assiduously with the government to try to get changes to the agreement and will continue to do so”. But, despite the hopes of Mrs May, Mr Wilson said bluntly: “We will not vote for an unamended or unchanged version [of her deal].”
Mr Wilson said that Leo Varadkar’s claim that “they can deal with Irish border trade without any need for one stick of infrastructure along the border, is the final proof that the exit deal is based on one big con job.
“The Irish border was never an issue. It was used to secure a leaving arrangement which would dictate the restrictive terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU.”
In a brief statement, the DUP gave no hint of a shift in its position. The party said: “Our position remains unchanged and as previous set out.
“We will judge all proposals and scenarios on the basis of our objectives to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom and deliver on the referendum result.”