Northern Ireland news

Sammy Wilson hits out at 'Brit-bashing' Leo Varadkar

Sammy Wilson (left) said Leo Varadkar's comments "diminished his standing as a politician who should in any way be taken seriously" 
Claire Simpson and Press Association

DUP MP Sammy Wilson has accused the taoiseach of damaging north-south relations over Brexit.

The East Antrim MP said he had helped build good relationships between Stormont and Dublin during his time as an Executive minister and claimed "Brit-bashing" Leo Varadkar had damaged them.

The DUP's MPs, which are helping to prop up the minority Tory government as part of a 'confidence and supply' deal, abstained on key budget votes at Westminster on Monday night.

The party joined with Labour to cut the government's majority to just five in a Commons vote.

However, it is understood Labour had not been expecting the DUP to vote with them and did not have enough of their own MPs on hand to win the contest.

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Speaking after the vote, Mr Wilson told the BBC the abstentions aimed to show the DUP's "displeasure" over Prime Minister Theresa May's draft EU withdrawal deal.

"All of them were designed to send a message to the government: 'Look, we have got an agreement with you but you have got to keep your side of the bargain otherwise we don't feel obliged to keep ours'," he said.

"She has broken all of those promises - to the people of the United Kingdom, to her own party and to the people of Northern Ireland."

Sammy Wilson criticised Leo Varadkar last month following remarks the taoiseach made about Brexit

The DUP's Brexit spokesman yesterday made an extraordinary attack on the taoiseach and accused him of damaging north-south relations.

"I worked in the Northern Ireland Assembly as finance minister and as environment minister for six years, working with Dublin administrations and working well with Dublin administrations and setting up good relationships," he said.

"And all of that good work has been undone by the Brit-bashing taoiseach that we have now in the Republic."

The DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said last night Mrs May's withdrawal agreement did not have cross-party support.

"A large number of Conservatives, both Brexit supporters and ardent Remainers, are against it. Labour, SNP, Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru are against it," he said.

"Unionists in Northern Ireland, and indeed unionists across the UK, are appalled at the constitutional implications of the deal."

Mr Dodds called on Mrs May to re-negotiate a "better deal" and warned the government it needed DUP support.

"If the government can look beyond a withdrawal agreement, which is uniting people from across the political spectrum against it, and instead work towards a better deal, then an outcome can be delivered that truly works to benefit all parts of the United Kingdom," he said.

Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said the DUP's withdrawal of support on a budget measure raised questions as to how long the government could carry on in the face of widespread opposition to Mrs May's Brexit deal.

"We no longer have a functioning government. With Brexit only a few months away something has got to give," he said.

Mrs May has insisted that her draft deal puts Northern Ireland in a "fantastic position" for the future.

In an opinion piece published in the Belfast Telegraph, the Prime Minister claimed the north's constitutional status within the UK had been guaranteed in the agreement.

"The challenge of Brexit has always been to continue our deep trading links and security co-operation with the EU in our new relationship, whilst freeing us to take advantage of the opportunities, such as an independent trade policy," she wrote.

"This deal strikes that balance, and puts Northern Ireland in a fantastic position for the future."

However, the turmoil facing the government prompted Tory grandee William Hague, whose frontline political career began in 1990, to warn that he had never witnessed a crisis more serious.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Hague said: "I have lived through more crises in British politics than I can remember, but I have never witnessed one more serious than this.

"It is a fundamental truth that if a party is riven with a long-running dispute and then its leader controversially overthrown, the new leader can only succeed if he or she has some time to heal wounds and a unifying plan to help do so."

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