DUP warns Theresa May of necessary Brexit changes

Dodds says Brussels reassurances not enough if PM is to win vote on withdrawal deal

Jo Churchill MP urges Commons speaker John Bercow to look at a video clip of Jeremy Corbyn as education secretary Damian Hinds, Andrew Stephenson MP, Mike Freer MP and health secretary Matt Hancock look on, on Wednesday. Photograph: UK Parliament/Mark Duffy/PA Wire

The DUP has warned Theresa May she must secure changes to the withdrawal agreement rather than reassurances about its meaning if she is to win its support for her Brexit deal in a Commons vote next month. The British prime minister has promised her backbenchers that she will win the reassurances necessary to win over the DUP ahead of the vote, which she postponed last week.

During prime minister's questions on Wednesday, however, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds made clear that reassurances from Brussels would not be enough.

“As the prime minister ponders over Christmas what might be done to get her withdrawal agreement through this House, can I urge her to consider the necessary changes that need to be made – not just assurances – in order to get somewhere with any realistic prospect of actually winning that vote?” he said.

Mrs May said she would "look at all the options that are available" to address concerns about the Northern Ireland backstop. But EU leaders told her last week they will not agree to any renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement.


No negotiations

There have been no negotiations on Brexit between Britain and the EU since last week’s summit and EU sources say there is no appetite among member states to draft any new clarifying text on the backstop ahead of next month’s vote at Westminster.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the prime minister of running down the clock by delaying until mid-January a vote she was certain to lose because she had secured no changes to the Brexit deal.

“She is holding parliament and the country to ransom. She is irresponsibly risking jobs, investment and our industries. There have been no changes, so she must put her deal to the vote. Parliament must take back control,” he said.

Conservative MPs later accused Mr Corbyn of describing the prime minister as a “stupid woman” after she responded to his last question. Lip-readers engaged by various news organisations agreed that those were the Labour leader’s words but he told MPs later that he had said “stupid people” in reference to Conservative backbenchers.


Conservatives accused speaker John Bercow of bias after he said he had not seen or heard Mr Corbyn's comment and that he accepted the Labour leader's account. House leader Andrea Leadsom asked why the speaker had not apologised for himself calling her a "stupid woman" on a previous occasion, and another Conservative MP, Vicky Ford, claimed Mr Bercow had used the same words to describe her.

Labour faces a byelection in the marginal seat of Peterborough after Fiona Onasanya, a former party whip, was convicted on Wednesday of lying to police about a speeding charge. The 35-year-old MP had denied that she was driving her car when it was caught being driven at more than 40mph in a 30mph zone.

Labour called on Ms Onasanya, who has already been suspended from the party, to resign from parliament. “The Labour Party is deeply disappointed in Fiona Onasanya’s behaviour. It falls well below what is expected of politicians. She should now resign,” it said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times