03:46, November 07 34 0 theguardian.com

2018-11-07 03:46:10
Publish ministers' Brexit legal advice in full, DUP demands

The Democratic Unionist party has demanded the publication of government legal advice given to ministers about a possible Brexit deal, saying that it could not accept any solution that involved “annexing Northern Ireland from Great Britain”.

Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s chief whip at Westminster, also reiterated the party’s warnings about a possible no-deal outcome, pouring cold water on hopes in Downing Street that a workable plan for the Irish border could be near.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Theresa May asked the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, to draw up legal plans for a “review mechanism” to resolve the Irish backstop issue.

Under the idea, which officials will try to finalise before another potential cabinet meeting later in the week, the UK could leave a temporary customs arrangement with the EU without being forced to accept a border down the Irish sea.

Cox give ministers a summary of legal advice setting out a series of options for Brexit, which included a warning that if the UK insisted on the right to unilaterally end a backstop it would increase the risk of no deal.

Some cabinet ministers, such as Michael Gove, are understood to have asked to see the entire document drawn up by Cox, not just his summary.

Donaldson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while ministers had said they would share the full legal advice with the DUP, the party, which is supporting May in government, wanted it to be published.

“I think it’s in the public interest that we understand fully what is happening here,” he said. “We’ve had that commitment already from the government, that they will tell us what the legal advice they have is in relation to the backstop.”

Donaldson said the document was of public interest. “It’s because it affects the whole of the United Kingdom and therefore it shouldn’t just be the Democratic Unionist party that sees this advice, or the government.

“If the House of Commons is going to have a meaningful vote on a deal upon which this legal advice is very important, then I think people are entitled to know what that legal advice is.”

Hopes have grown in recent days that the backstop issue – which seeks to put in place a guarantee for the EU to avoid a hard Irish border if no permanent solution can be found – could be resolved, paving the way for a deal.

But Donaldson reiterated that while his party hoped for an agreement, they believed a no-deal departure remained very possible.

“We haven’t got a deal at the moment, and it’s clear from the rhetoric coming from both Brussels and Dublin that they are so far opposing what the prime minister has suggested in terms of pragmatic arrangements to deal with the Irish border,” he said.

”But we are right to warn Dublin that if they hold out, if they continue to be the roadblock to try and frustrate Brexit, then there are serious consequences for their economy, if we end up with a no-deal scenario.”

The party’s concerns about the backstop go beyond whether it would be time limited, Donaldson said, who agreed that having no time limit was was seen as common sense.

”If that was what the backstop was just about, yes, it would be,” he said. “But it’s not, of course, because the backstop is about effectively annexing Northern Ireland from Great Britain, in terms of tying it into a single market separate from the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Donaldson denied that the DUP – which threatened to vote down last week’s budget but then supported it – was bluffing.

“Let’s see what the deal is. We’re not afraid of a general election,” he said. “I’m quite happy to go to the people of Northern Ireland on the basis that we voted against a deal because it was not in the interests of Northern Ireland; it would have resulted in Northern Ireland being annexed from the United Kingdom.”

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