Brexit

Jim Shannon dismisses reports of DUP shift to support customs union

Jim Shannon insisted that the DUP had not shifted in its opposition to the UK remaining in the customs union. Picture by Julien Behal/PA Wire

A DUP MP has poured cold water on reports suggesting the party would side with Labour in backing a Brexit deal that kept the UK in the customs union.

In the wake of Saturday's Commons defeat for the British government, it was reported that Arlene Foster's party could back an opposition amendment that would scupper Boris Johnson's hopes of delivering Brexit by the end of the month.

The votes of the DUP's 10 MPs proved decisive in defeating the Tory leader's efforts to get Westminster to ratify the deal agreed with the EU last week.

According to the Daily Telegraph, a DUP figure has indicated that the party is considering shifting on its opposition to a deal that keeps the UK in the customs union, which its MPs rejected earlier this year during a series of indicative votes.

Labour's shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has said his party will push for changes when the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) is brought before Westminster.

Mr Starmer raised the possibility of demanding a UK-wide customs union with the EU and single market alignment, as well as backing calls to put the deal to a confirmatory referendum.

If MPs support the amendment it could force the British government to pull the legislation required to ensure the UK leaves the EU on October 31.

The paper quoted another DUP figure who refused to rule out backing a customs union amendment – a move that would signal another climbdown from a party that has often aligned itself with hard Brexiteer elements of the Conservative Party.

"Clearly that would be one way we could look at addressing our concerns – there will be some very grown-up conversations over the next 48 hours and we will be looking at all the options we have available," the DUP figure told the Daily Telegraph.

"I would simply remind you of the comment that Nigel Dodds made about the previous backstop: 'If the choice is between a bad deal and remaining, then the union comes first'. In all of this, we will judge whether any arrangement weakens the union or not."

But DUP MP Jim Shannon insisted that the party's stance on the customs union had not changed.

"We are clear where we stand on the customs union, it’s something we cannot support and will not support," he told Sky News yesterday.

The Strangford MP also reiterated DUP opposition to a second referendum, saying the party wished to honour the result of the 2016 vote.

European Research Group chairman Steve Baker called on the DUP to "choke down extremely difficult compromises" and back the Brexit deal.

"I'm not going to deny there are still problems with that Withdrawal Agreement which I've long complained about," he told the BBC.

"We're going to compromise in the national interest to get us out of the European Union on time and I'm afraid I'm asking the DUP, just as we're having to choke down extremely difficult compromises to get out in the national interest... I would ask the DUP to accept this compromise."

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