Risk of no-deal Brexit ‘significant’, says DUP’s Donaldson

DUP leader Arlene Foster says Government should ‘dial back the rhetoric’

Jeffrey Donaldson MP, chief whip of the DUP. Photograph: James Forde

Jeffrey Donaldson MP, chief whip of the DUP. Photograph: James Forde

 

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has told BBC Radio 4’s Today show that the current chances of a no-deal Brexit were “significant”.

Speaking ahead of British prime minister Boris Johnson’s meeting of the five Northern Irish political parties on Wednesday, Mr Donaldson spoke of the importance of the Irish Government in breaking the deadlock over the Border backstop before the deadline for a deal of October 31st.

Mr Johnson arrived in Northern Ireland on Tuesday night and held private meeting Mr Donaldson, as well as leader Arlene Foster and senior colleague Nigel Dodds.

“I think given the response of the Irish Government in particular who I believe are key to this issue of addressing UK concerns about the backstop, I think the prospect of a no-deal is significant,” Mr Donaldson said.

Asked about the warnings of 40,000 job losses in Northern Ireland, he said that was at the “very high end of the scale” and he was not convinced a no-deal would result in that type of outcome.

“We do recognise that no deal is not good in the short term for our economy in Northern Ireland and to be clear it’s not something we’re working towards.

“We’ve always been consistent in our approach on Brexit which is we want to see the UK leaving the EU with a deal, but the deal that’s on the table at the moment is clearly unacceptable, not just to us, but to a majority on three occasions in the House of Commons.

“We are clear that the problem with the withdrawal agreement is the backstop and it’s not just a problem for Northern Ireland, it’s a problem for the UK as a whole and we want to see a more flexible and pragmatic approach taken by the EU, we still believe it’s possible to get a deal and we are urging the EU to step forward and to discuss with the UK government how we can achieve that”.

He said he did not believe that people in Northern Ireland were going to vote in favour of a united Ireland.

“I think the prime minister is right, taking a softer approach to the EU didn’t work for the last prime minister and I think that the line that the prime minister is taking now is one that is more likely to get us to a deal in October than the previous approach.”

Retrograde step

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill has said that a return to direct rule in Northern Ireland would be a retrograde step.

It would mean “putting the Good Friday Agreement in the bin”, she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Ms O’Neill said that when she meets with the new UK prime minister Boris Johnson she will make it clear that the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and that nothing good can come of Brexit.

She added that she will also remind Mr Johnson of the special and unique situation in the North and of the peace process that must be cherished.

The prime minister is “clearly electioneering, playing a game of chicken with the EU.”

Ms O’Neill criticised the DUP for “parking the talks” about a return to devolved government during the marching season, “they should be engaged or not.”

Critics have claimed the British government is unable to act as an impartial mediator in talks to restore the crisis-hit institutions due to the controversial Westminster deal with the DUP.

Mr Johnson denied a conflict of interest as he arrived at Stormont House on Wednesday.

“It’s all there in the Good Friday Agreement, we believe in complete impartiality and that’s what we are going to observe,” he said.

“But the crucial thing is to get this Stormont government up and running again.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster, also speaking on Morning Ireland, blamed Sinn Féin for the stalled devolution talks. “I’m not the one who walked away from devolution. I want to be back at Stormont today, but I can’t because of Sinn Féin who have a list that is getting longer by the day.”

Ms Foster said she is looking forward to working with Mr Johnson to find a new agreement for “a good Brexit” for the people of Northern Ireland, the UK and the Republic.

There needs to be a rethink of the backstop and to restore devolution. She said she wants to continue in the confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative party to deliver Brexit and bring stability to the country.

Ms Foster dismissed predictions of considerable job losses in Northern Ireland and the Republic if there is a no deal Brexit as “hyperbole”.

“We don’t want no deal”, she said. “Unfortunately we have met with belligerence from Dublin. Why is it the backstop or nothing?

“I hope the Government will dial back the rhetoric.” – Additional reporting from PA