DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds has claimed the EU’s chief negotiator has “blown a hole” in the concept of the Irish backstop.
The DUP MP for Belfast North said Michel Barnier had said some checks and controls could be done away from the border and claimed that meant a backstop would not be necessary.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Dodds also accused the Irish Government of “highly reckless” talk over the potential of a no-deal Brexit to cause trouble at the border.
He said: “In recent days we’ve heard the Irish prime minister talk about bringing his troops up to the border in the event of no deal, we’ve heard the Irish deputy foreign minister talk of people jumping out of windows – isn’t this highly-reckless talk extremely dangerous in the present circumstances?
“That sort of rhetoric should be toned down and instead focused on what Michel Barnier said the other day – that even in the event of a no deal we would sit down and find operational ways to have checks and controls away from the border.
“Isn’t that the way forward, and it blows a hole in the entire concept of this backstop?”
Prime Minister Theresa May did not agree that Mr Barnier’s comments, which also included an insistence the current backstop was the only arrangement possible, meant she could do away with the backstop and instead reiterated her commitment to no hard border.
She said: “I will be speaking to the Taoiseach later today and it’s important for us to work with the Government of Ireland on the arrangements that will be in place in the future.
“We obviously have sent a clear message from this House about what needs to happen in relation to the backstop but we retain our commitment to no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
Mrs May should rule out a no deal Brexit, Labour MP Jack Dromey (Birmingham Erdington) said, because it would be contemptuous of Parliament and impoverish the country.
“We’re 58 days away from a cliff,” he said. “If we plunge into an abyss our country will be a poorer country in every sense of the word.
“Last night this House voted that there can be no question of a no-deal Brexit.
“Will the Prime Minister honour the will of Parliament and rule out a no-deal Brexit because to proceed with a no-deal Brexit would not only impoverish our country it would be contemptuous of Parliament.”
Mrs May responded that MPs should focus on getting a deal to avoid leaving without a deal.
She added: “What Parliament also voted for last night was to say that it wanted to leave the EU with a deal and it identified what was necessary to change in the deal in order to enable that to happen and for the support of this House to be given to a deal.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused Mrs May of misleading the House with her plan to seek an “alternative arrangement” on the backstop, because the EU had already ruled out renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement.
The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber asked: “Has the Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House or is this Government’s incompetence reached a whole new level?”
Mrs May said she was taking back to Brussels what was agreed by Parliament, and then criticised Mr Blackford for comments he made suggesting the Tories were “ripping up the Good Friday Agreement”, calling them “frankly irresponsible”.
The SNP leader said that was a “disgraceful response” from a PM acting with “sheer irresponsibility”.
Mr Blackford went on to accuse the Government of dragging Scotland out of the EU against its will.
He said: “We are scunnered by this Government ignoring Scotland.
“Prime Minister, do you accept that you have promised Scotland everything, you have delivered nothing?”
Mrs May said a new report showed 60% of Scottish exports went to the rest of the UK, three times more than with the rest of the European Union.
“Yet he represents a party that wants to erect a border between Scotland and England,” she said.
“The biggest threat to the future of Scotland is sitting on those benches.”