Northern Ireland news

Northern Ireland-only backstop 'would be end of Good Friday agreement', warns Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds were at Downing Street yesterday to meet Boris Johnson 

A NORTHERN Ireland-only backstop "would be the end of the Good Friday agreement", DUP Westminster chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

As the prospect of an Irish Sea border appears to be regaining political traction, the Lagan Valley MP warned that "would be such a fundamental breach of the principle of consent it would alter the relationship, Northern Ireland's relationship, with the rest of the UK so fundamentally that unionists could not operate a system that did that".

Speaking on BBC's Politics Live, Sir Jeffrey said: "If you want to protect the Good Friday agreement remember it's cross community in nature.

"It doesn't rely solely on the whim of the Irish government and the nationalist community. It requires the buy-in of unionists and there isn't a single unionist politician or party that supports a Northern Ireland-only backstop or the current backstop."

He insisted that the British prime minister has "made it absolutely clear" that his responsibility is "to protect the integrity of the UK single market".

Number 10 official spokesman insisted yesterday: "We are not seeking a Northern Ireland-only backstop."

However, UUP peer Lord Empey said last night's meeting between the DUP and the prime minister showed the depth of panic within the Northern Ireland party over the prospective backstop.

Read More: New EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan indicates 'movement' on Brexit negotiations

"The DUP running to see Boris Johnson in the aftermath of reports that he is contemplating a Northern Ireland only backstop, indicates the panic and concern that they are really feeling and not the 'relaxed' approach that they publicly proclaim," he said.

"They are right to be worried; it was Boris, after all, who attended their party conference last year and denounced the backstop, only to vote for it in parliament a few months later. The same applied to Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove.

Read More: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson dismisses notion that DUP's influence on Government is 'waning'

"There are elements in No 10 and in the Conservative Party who are driven by English nationalism; they wouldn't hesitate to leave us stranded in EU limbo land.

"There is the added pressure of self-preservation. If the Conservative Party does not deliver Brexit, Nigel Farage will eat them for breakfast."

He said a change in the parliamentary arithmetic had ended "the DUP stranglehold over government".

Sir Jeffrey Donalson with colleagues Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds signing the `confidence and supply deal' that gave the party the balance of power with then prime minister Theresa May. Picture by Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

"This was always going to happen. Hung parliaments never last too long and the DUP's leverage is slipping away," Lord Empey said.

He called for "a workable alternative to the backstop" to allow the UK to leave the EU "in good order" to "help our negotiations on the future relationship with the remaining 27 members of the EU".

"Leaving in acrimonious circumstances will not help us get the free trade deal we want."

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