British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a backbench rebellion over draft Brexit deal. RollingNews.ie photo.
By Anthony Neeson
The Democratic Unionist Party has hit back at Northern Ireland’s business leaders and farmers after both groups came out in support of the draft EU withdrawal agreement between the EU and UK.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a backbench rebellion over the agreement which sees the UK continuing in a customs union with the EU, while Northern Ireland will be closely tied to the rules of the single market, if there is no long term trade agreement between the EU and UK.
The DUP, Brexiteers within the Conservative Party and British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have claimed the deal will see a border down the Irish Sea.
Both the EU and UK say the deal cannot be renegotiated. Angry Tory rebels are trying to reach the 48 votes necessary within Conservative MPs to trigger a leadership challenge to Mrs. May.
However, it is the stance of the business community and Northern Ireland’s farmers that has angered Arlene Foster’s party.
The DUP are Northern Ireland’s self-style business party. Many of its supporters also come from the farming community. Astonishingly, on the BBC’s “The View,” Jeffrey Donaldson MP accused farming and business bodies of not reading the 585-page draft agreement.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union, which represents 11,500 farming families, has called on the DUP to support the deal, which if current voting intentions are anything to go by, will not have the numbers to get through the House of Commons.
“We want to make sure we avoid a no-deal situation,” said Wesley Aston, UFU chief executive. “No deal for Northern Ireland agri-food and farming in particular would be absolutely disastrous and we have made that patently clear over this last while.”
He added: “We would support the deal going through and against that background we would ask the DUP to consider voting for this deal.”
Tina McKenzie, the Federation of Small Business NI chair, said: “We believe that the Withdrawal Agreement is a significant step back from the cliff edge which would result in a chaotic no-deal Brexit that would be deeply damaging and dangerous for our small firms.
“We would encourage all political actors to keep this in mind as we move forwards.”
On Monday, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, was back in Belfast where she met with business leaders.
She was asked by reporters about the row between business and the DUP, who are propping up the British government at Westminster.
“It’s disappointing some of the coverage that there has been since the deal, in that it has been something portrayed as an attack on any one party or politician,” she said.
“I’m not standing here saying that those politicians who have a difference of opinion with me on this matter are anything other than acting in what they consider to be the best interests of constituents.”
The DUP, however, are not backing down in their opposition to the deal.
The party’s deputy leader, Nigel Dodds MP, said: “This deal would place a trade border in the Irish Sea, subject us to EU rules without any power to influence or change them and binds us to the EU with no unilateral ability to leave. Indeed, Northern Ireland is part of the EU customs union, not the UK’s.”
He added: “I understand why some people fear a ‘no deal’ scenario. But the choice is between this very bad deal and the right deal.
“With MPs on all sides of the House pointing to the dangers to the union of the withdrawal agreement, it is clear that it is time to work for a better deal which does not undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom.”