Sammy Wilson has slammed a proposed review mechanism for the Brexit backstop, claiming it could see Northern Ireland “eternally trapped” in the EU’s sphere of influence.
It comes after Irish premier Leo Varadkar told Theresa May he will not accept a Brexit deal which gives the UK the unilateral power to halt backstop arrangements for the border with Northern Ireland.
In a phone conversation with the taoiseach yesterday, Mrs May said that any agreement would have to include a mechanism to bring an end to the backstop – designed to ensure there is no hard border on the island of Ireland if the UK and EU fail to reach a broader trade deal.
Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said the Irish premier indicated he was ready to consider proposals for a review mechanism, but only if it was clear that the arrangement cannot be ditched by one side acting alone.
The call came hours after Mr Varadkar dismissed the idea of a time-limited backstop, saying it would not be worth the paper it is written on.
DUP MP Mr Wilson said the taoiseach’s apparent roll back suggested he had been “reprimanded” by Brussels for his hard-line approach.
The East Antrim MP told the News Letter: “Once again Leo Varadkar has let the cat out of the bag and it shown that he is an amateur. He has embarrassed himself by his hard line stance and has got it in the neck from Brussels.
“The EU is trying to get the PM off the hook while at the same time disguise what they are really up to; keeping the UK stuck in the customs union. But Mr Varadkar has given the game away and made life difficult for them, so he has had his knuckles rapped and been told to find a way out of it, hence his change of tack.”
Mr Wilson said his party would not support “any mechanism that gives a veto to the EU or the Irish”, adding: “We could be stuck with this arrangement forever, this eternal backstop.
“Once they decide Britain has gone too far and changed its rules and regulations too much, they would seek to have the backstop reinstituted for Northern Ireland.
“We would have this constitutional sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.”
The backstop has become the major obstacle to agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, due to take place in March next year.
Downing Street proposals for a “review mechanism” are understood to be designed to allay Tory concerns over the Prime Minister’s plan for the whole of the UK to remain temporarily in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
A No 10 spokesman described Mrs May’s conversation with Mr Varadkar as “constructive”, adding: “They agreed that the intention was that the backstop should only be a temporary arrangement and that the best solution to the Northern Ireland border would be found by agreeing a future relationship between the UK and the EU.”
A spokesman for the taoiseach said: “The prime minister raised the possibility of a review mechanism for the backstop. The Taoiseach indicated an openness to consider proposals for a review, provided that it was clear that the outcome of any such review could not involve a unilateral decision to end the backstop.”
Reports at the weekend that Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of the EU’s proposed Irish backstop after just three months had been criticised by the Irish government.
Speaking yesterday morning, Mr Varadkar said: “A backstop with a three-month limit on it or expiry date of that nature isn’t worth the paper it’s written on and what the backstop the UK Government has signed up to is a legally operative backstop that will apply unless, and until, we have any agreement to supersede it.”
SDLP MLA Claire Hanna welcomed the taoiseach’s comments, adding: “The backstop, albeit far from perfect, is the bottom line of protection against a hard Brexit on the island of Ireland. To have an expiry date on the backstop renders it worthless.”