Northern Ireland

Brexit: Ken Clarke 'out of touch' over 'sectarian' DUP comment

Ken Clarke
Image caption Ken Clarke accused the DUP of making "unbelievably silly points" in its opposition to Brexit

Former chancellor Ken Clarke is "out of touch", the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said, after he called it a "sectarian Protestant party in Ireland" and attacked its Brexit stance.

The veteran Conservative said Theresa May was "trying to satisfy" the DUP's "unbelievably silly points" in its opposition to her EU withdrawal deal.

He made the comments on Sky News.

Responding to the remarks on Thursday, DUP MP Nigel Dodds said Mr Clarke was a "decent fellow but... out of touch".

The DUP has been vehement in its opposition to the prime minister's Brexit deal and voted against it in Parliament on Tuesday, contributing to its heavy defeat.

Mr Dodds and DUP leader Arlene Foster met Mrs May at Downing Street on Thursday as the prime minister tries to find a consensus on Brexit.

The talks were "good", said Mr Dodds, who added that Mrs May "has a way through this" by addressing the Irish border backstop in a "satisfactory way".

The DUP has concerns about the backstop, which is effectively an insurance policy to avoid a return to a hard Irish border if no other solution can be found through a wider trade deal with the EU.

Mr Clarke, who voted in favour of the deal, said Mrs May was spending "all her time on party management, trying to keep hardline Brexiteers and this sectarian Protestant party in Ireland onside".

"She's still going back to the DUP, trying to satisfy their unbelievably silly points on the Irish backstop," he told Sky News.

Image caption Ken Clarke is "increasingly out of step with... his own party", according to Gregory Campbell

The DUP's Gregory Campbell urged Mr Clarke to "reflect" on comments.

"Standing up for the national interests of this country and working to get the best deal for all is the very antithesis of sectarianism," added the East Londonderry MP.

"This week members from [Mr Clarke's] own party and across the House stood side by side with the DUP to vote against the withdrawal agreement because it did not act in the best interests of the UK.

"Ken Clarke, very unfortunately for him, finds himself increasingly out of step with the vast majority in his own party as well as the country."

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