Relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic are at their lowest ebb in 25 years thanks to Dublin’s “arrogant” approach to the Brexit talks, a senior DUP MP has warned.
Sammy Wilson claimed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had “overplayed his hand” by threatening to delay the negotiations unless he received assurances there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland.
The DUP MP accused Mr Varadkar of “grave interference” in the talks between London and Brussels and warned that the Irish government’s tactics have caused major damage to relations between Belfast and Dublin.
“I can’t recall relations between NI and the Republic being as low as this since the days of Charlie Haughey,” Mr Wilson told the News Letter.
Mr Wilson said the taoiseach had behaved “despicably” by threatening to use the Republic’s veto to block Brexit talks from moving on to the second phase.
And he claimed the Irish prime minister will now have “bridges to mend”, adding: “This relationship will take time to repair and the Republic will pay the consequences of Mr Varadkar’s attitude.”
Mr Wilson’s comments came just 24 hours after party colleague Ian Paisley claimed Mr Varadkar has been “done over” by the DUP, the UK government and the EU over last week’s Brexit agreement.
Mr Wilson also warned that it could prove difficult to work towards improving north-south relations in the near future, given that Northern Ireland continues to be without a functioning government.
He added: “With no Assembly in place there will be less contact with the Republic, which means Mr Varadkar’s behaviour will be a festering sore that could be left untreated.”
The East Antrim MP felt that Mr Varadkar’s approach to the Brexit talks had also damaged Dublin’s relations with London, and possibly even with the EU.
“The prime minister has already shown her fury at the way the Taoiseach has behaved and I imagine he has made no new friends within the EU, who I suspect will remember his actions when phase two of the talks come around,” he added.
Last week, Mr Wilson launched a scathing attack on Mr Varadkar and Irish deputy leader Simon Coveney, claiming they had been have been “cynical, aggressive, green and partisan” in their approach to Brexit negotiations.
Speaking to RTE News following Friday’s announcement that an agreement had been reached between the UK and EU about the Irish border post-Brexit, Mr Wilson said: “They (Varadkar and Coveney) are going to have to do a lot of work to convince unionists that they are not seeking to undermine Northern Ireland’s position and using Brexit as a cover to do so.”
Welcoming the breakthrough between the UK and the EU on Friday, Mr Wilson told the News Letter yesterday: “We have a firm commitment to protect the integrity of the union and assurances that nothing will be done to damage that.”
In the House of Commons yesterday, DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds thanked the prime minister for her “personal devotion” to getting the text of the Brexit agreement “strengthened” over the past week amid his party’s concerns.
On Friday, DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party had worked closely with the government to secure changes to the original text it rejected last Monday.
Following Theresa May’s statement to MPs in the Commons yesterday, in which she outlined the terms of the agreement, Mr Dodds said: “The Prime Minister has repeated that the agreement reached on Friday was a significant improvement from that seen last Monday.
“As she made clear, the text strengthens the constitutional and economic integrity of the whole United Kingdom.
“In the event of a deal Northern Ireland will not be separated politically, economically or by any regulatory requirements from the rest of the UK, but in the event of no overall deal then nothing has been agreed.
“The United Kingdom can move forward as a single entity to negotiate our exit from the European Union.”