Northern Ireland news

DUP team up with Tory Brexiteers to thwart Theresa May's withdrawal deal

Sammy Wilson warned that the DUP would vote against Theresa May's EU withdrawal plans. Picture by Michael McHugh/PA Wire

THE DUP has joined forces with hardline Tory Brexiteers to warn Theresa May that they will vote against her EU withdrawal plans.

The move comes as the British prime minister battles to keep her Brexit agenda on track amid growing Tory tensions and reports of opposition from Brussels to a key part of withdrawal proposals.

On Friday, DUP leader Arlene Foster warned that she would not back the British prime minister's proposals for a Brexit withdrawal deal.

In a further shot across Mrs May's bows, DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson and Tory Brexiteer Steve Baker, deputy chairman of the 80-member European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative backbenchers, said they would oppose any agreement which they thought threatened the union and could put a trade border down the Irish Sea.

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Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, they said: "We share the prime minister's ambition for an EU free trade agreement, but not at any price, and certainly not at the price of our union.

"If the government makes the historic mistake of prioritising placating the EU over establishing an independent and whole UK, then, regrettably, we must vote against the deal."

Hope of getting the British cabinet to sign off on Brexit deal proposals this week appeared to be rapidly receding, as it was reported the EU had rejected London's plans for an independent arbitration clause that could allow the UK to quit a backstop deal on the Irish border.

With both pro and anti-withdrawal Tories becoming more vocal in their opposition to Mrs May's stance, arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg called on the PM to change tack.

He urged Mrs May to end the deadlock by paying the EU £20 billion to secure a "no deal plus" arrangement with the bloc after withdrawal.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Rees-Mogg, who heads the ERG, suggested offering the financial deal to Brussels in order to "make our departure as amicable as possible".

Previously critical of the £39 billion divorce bill the UK is set to pay the EU, Mr Rees-Mogg wrote: "It is time for convinced Brexiteers like me to compromise.

"So, at this late hour in the negotiations, we would like to make a new, generous offer to break the deadlock, to achieve a 'No Deal Plus'.

"It would cost us money but it would finally dispel the 'crash out' Project Fear nightmare scenarios."

A British government source told the Press Association: "The end part of negotiations were always going to be tough."

Meanwhile, members of the cabinet appeared at odds over whether the UK could secure a unilateral exit from a Brexit backstop deal.

British government education secretary Damian Hinds said such an outcome would be "very, very unlikely", while House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom insisted Britain must be able to leave any customs agreement.

Mr Hinds told BBC's The Andrew Marr Show a solution to the issue needed to be negotiated but Mrs Leadsom insisted the UK "cannot be held against its will" in a backstop customs arrangement with the EU, and claimed MPs would not support a scenario in which Britain could not decide when to leave.

Brexiteers have insisted that the UK should not get involved with a potentially permanent backstop customs union agreement with the EU as the price of avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

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