DUP hints softer Brexit may be acceptable to secure North’s status

Sammy Wilson comments open to interpretation that DUP is amenable to compromise

Democratic Unionist Party Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson: might DUP yet furnish Theresa May with voting support she needs? Photograph: Liam McBurney

British prime minister Theresa May lost her three withdrawal agreement votes first by 230 votes, then by 149 votes, and on Friday by 58 votes.

Notwithstanding the general political deflation and frustration, the DUP wants the British government to make a final push to persuade the EU to drop the backstop in the belief this will finally turn the arithmetic in May’s favour.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson maintain a Brexit deal can still be done – and there was a hint in their latest statements that a softer Brexit than initially campaigned for could be acceptable to the unionist party.

Dodds was asked by Newsnight’s Nicholas Watt could he support a soft Brexit if that meant preserving Northern Ireland’s position within the UK.


Dodds replied: "Someone once asked me about these orders of priorities, and I said I would stay in the European Union and remain rather than risk Northern Ireland's position. That's how strongly I feel about the union."

Threat to union

Wilson was asked by BBC Radio Ulster’s Seamus McKee whether the DUP would sign up to a situation – which could be possible from future votes in the House of Commons next week – where the British parliament would vote for the UK to remain in the EU customs union and be strongly aligned to the single market. If such a position was somehow incorporated into an amended withdrawal agreement, there would be no requirement for a backstop, and therefore surely no threat to the union.

“No, that is not the solution that we want,” said Wilson.

But could the DUP live with such a situation?

Again Wilson did not rule it out, saying it was in the realm of “second, third, fourth, fifth-best” option. Wilson was pushed with the idea that customs union and alignment with the single market would do away with the DUP’s concern about the North “diverging” from Britain.

Wilson agreed that it would but it would not mean the UK leaving the EU in the Brexit manner that he aspired to. “We are not pursuing that option,” he said.

But Wilson did add one qualification by also saying that it was an option the DUP was not considering “at present”.

One must be careful when interpreting but the implications of what he and Dodds were saying could be that the DUP is amenable to a compromise that could yet see May getting the numbers she needs.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times