The DUP rejected Theresa May’s latest bid to win support for her Brexit deal as ‘cosmetic and meaningless’ today.
In her latest assurances, she said the Northern Ireland Assembly – which has been suspended for almost two years – would have a ‘veto’ over new EU rules if the Brexit backstop comes into force.
But the DUP said the idea meant nothing because the Brexit deal was an international treaty that would override Stormont.
Under the backstop – which will kick in if there is no UK-EU trade deal in December 2020 – Northern Ireland would have to follow many customs union and single market rules to keep open the border with Ireland.
It would have to follow more rules than Great Britain – creating a regulatory barrier across the Irish Sea.
The fresh blow to Mrs May came as she was left reeling by an alliance of Tory rebels and Opposition MPs to defeat her Government on the Finance Bill last night.
She used PMQs today to insist parliament would get a vote on whether to use the backstop – but this is already in the divorce deal and subject to EU agreement, meaning it will reassure none of her critics.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused Mrs May of having failed in her promise to get new concessions from Brussels when she postponed the vote on her deal last month.
The DUP rejected Theresa May’s latest bid to win support for her Brexit deal as ‘cosmetic and meaningless’ today
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds (right in Downing Street on Monday night) said the idea meant nothing because the Brexit deal was an international treaty that would override Stormont
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said: ‘We reject the backstop and have previously, and consistently, indicated we will not support an internationally legally binding withdrawal agreement that contains its provisions.
Such an international treaty supersedes and overrides any contrary domestic legal provisions.
‘The proposal to ensure ”a strong role for the Northern Ireland Assembly” before NI-specific backstop provisions are given effect is cosmetic and meaningless in that as the paper itself indicates ”this would be without prejudice to our commitment to abide by our international law obligations”.’
The walls are closing in on Mrs May after an alliance of Labour and Conservative rebels inflicted an historic defeat on the flagship Finance Bill – the first time that has happened for four decades.
The amendment will curb the Treasury’s tax-raising powers if the government tries to force a no deal Brexit, with rebels insisting they will wage ‘guerrilla warfare’ to stop the UK crashing out without an agreement.
She is facing the threat of a fresh revolt today when MPs will demand she comes back to the Commons and explains her next steps within three days of her deal being defeated.
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, seen as Mrs May’s effective deputy, this morning issued another frantic plea for critics to get behind her plan.
He appealed for MPs to give up on hopes for ‘magical alternative deals that are somehow going to sort of spring out of a cupboard in Brussels’.
Dominic Grieve (left) and Yvette Cooper (right) have joined forces to try to head off the possibility of a no-deal Brexit
Ministers have played down the impact of the Commons vote last night, painting it as an inconvenience rather than a mortal blow to the government’s ability to respond to a no-deal situation.
It was the first time since James Callaghan was PM in the 1970s that a government has been defeated in a vote on the Finance Bill, which is used to enact the Budget.
The Tory rebels included 17 former ministers, six of whom had served at Cabinet level. Among them were Sir Michael Fallon, Kenneth Clarke, Justine Greening, Nicky Morgan, Sir Oliver Letwin and Dominic Grieve.
They said it was the first shot in a campaign to force the Government to abandon any attempt to leave the EU without a deal.
Former Tory minister Nick Boles said: ‘We’ll be seeking to use any and every opportunity to show that Parliament will not allow a no-deal Brexit. This is a single skirmish in a long campaign.’
It came just hours after opponents of a no-deal Brexit in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet made their opposition clear to force her to rule the option out.
The Cabinet is deeply split on how to proceed if Mrs May’s package is killed off, with figures such as Amber Rudd and Greg Clark adamant that no-deal should not be contemplated, while others such as Andrea Leadsom and Sajid Javid regard it as preferable to no Brexit.
With no sign of a breakthrough that could save Mrs May’s Brexit plan from a mauling by MPs next week, a tense Cabinet meeting heard that a no-deal exit could even lead to the break-up of the UK, with ministers told Northern Ireland and Scotland could leave the Union.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd told the meeting: ‘History will take a dim view of a Cabinet that presses ahead with no deal.’
Business Secretary Greg Clark said a no-deal Brexit ‘should not be contemplated’. Michael Gove suggested there was no sign that Tory Eurosceptics, who he dubbed ‘the oldest swingers in town’, were preparing to back down.
The Environment Secretary broke the tension by joking that hardline Tory MPs were ‘like 50-year-olds at the end of the disco, who have turned down all other offers and are waiting for Scarlett Johansson to come along.’ Miss Rudd chipped in: ‘Or Pierce Brosnan.’
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd (pictured at No10 yesterday) has warned a Cabinet that pushed through no-deal would not be forgiven
Tory veteran Sir Oliver Letwin (pictured in the Commons last night) warned Mrs May: ‘The majority tonight that is expressed in this House will sustain itself. We will not allow a no deal exit to occur at the end of March’
Cabinet sources said the Prime Minister appeared to accept the possibility that her deal will be defeated next week, saying she would ‘move quickly’ to make a statement on her next steps.
But – to the frustration of ministers present – she gave no clue as to what her next move would be, except to rule out a second referendum.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Lidington urged politicians to recnogise that the public wanted them to get on with Brexit,
‘I don’t think that the British public are served by fantasies about magical alternative deals that are somehow going to sort of spring out of a cupboard in Brussels,’ he said.
‘This deal on the table has involved some very difficult give and take on both sides and if you go around and talk to the other EU 27 governments they will say that there are elements of this that cause them some political pain, but they are very clear, in conversations I have had with them as well as their public statements, they ain’t going to be going back and unpicking this for some brand new brilliant renegotiations.
‘So, the choice that people have is this deal or it is no deal or it is, as some MPs advocate, to reverse the 2016 referendum entirely.’
He said the Government’s Commons defeat was ‘inconvenient’ and urged MPs who are against a no-deal Brexit: ‘You have to put in place an alternative – a deal to govern exit – and the deal that is available is the one the Prime Minister has negotiated over many months.’