Northern Ireland news

Ian Paisley: Chancellor told me to make Sammy Wilson 'back down' on Brexit

DUP MPs Ian Paisley and Sammy Wilson, and British chancellor Philip Hammond
Brendan Hughes

IAN Paisley has claimed British chancellor Philip Hammond urged him to tell Sammy Wilson to "back down" over Brexit.

The DUP MP told a party fundraiser of the tetchy private exchange as he praised Mr Wilson for "keeping people's toes to the fire" on the UK's exit from the European Union.

It comes just days after Mr Wilson was branded "shameful" by political rivals for heckling "go to the chippy" as Westminster heard concerns of food shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Paisley was speaking on Thursday night at a DUP fundraiser in Ballymena involving a Q&A session with chief Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Around 400 guests gathered in the Tullyglass Hotel's banqueting suite, including Brexit-backing businessman Arron Banks, loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson, anti-abortion campaigner Bernie Smyth and Daniel McArthur from Ashers bakery.

"I think it's absolutely crucial that I, as a member of parliament here but also on behalf of our party, pay tribute to Sammy Wilson for the great work that Sammy does," Mr Paisley said, prompting sustained applause from the audience.

"Sammy is well, well loved in the DUP but our people know that Sammy has led this fight from Northern Ireland and has been very instrumental on keeping people's toes to the fire on it.

"And in particular I had a conversation one night with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and he said, 'Could you not tell Sammy to back down?' I said, 'No, Sammy's not for backing down.' So it's important that I say that about Sammy."

Theresa May's minority government is propped up by a DUP pact which sees its 10 MPs support the Conservatives on key Commons votes in exchange for £1bn extra funding for Northern Ireland.

But the DUP has clashed with the British prime minister over her Brexit deal with the EU, opposing the 'backstop' plan aimed at guaranteeing no hard border in Ireland.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who also opposes the backstop, told the audience he has confidence Mrs May can re-negotiate the withdrawal agreement.

Asked by DUP East Antrim MP Mr Wilson how he would approach negotiations differently, Mr Rees-Mogg said he would use the UK's £39 billion 'divorce bill' as leverage.

"Well it's what I would have done from day one. I would have said, 'Here's £39bn, here's a trade deal. You give us one, you can have the other. You don't give us one, you can't have the other. Thank you, and good night,'" he said, prompting applause.

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