THE DUP have privately decided to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal next week when she toughens it up, in a major breakthrough for No10.
The Sun can reveal that delicate deliberations are now ongoing between the Ulster unionist party’s leaders and the PM.
In a crucial shift, it has emerged that the DUP are now willing to accept a backstop as long as it’s specifically time limited. In another twist last night, Tory grandees told The Sun they have tabled a new Brexit plan of their own in a bid to end the Conservatives’ civil war.
There was just a hint of menace in the story about the threat of a border poll, although one dismissed – at least by Newton Emerson.
Nevertheless, the prospect may be starting to spook the DUP when they contemplate No Deal with a hard border or others options such as a general election that could put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing St. Better to back nurse for fear of something worse.
Senior DUP figures say they now fear pro-Remain Tory MPs will side with Labour to deliver a significantly softer Brexit if the PM’s deal is voted down on Tuesday. The party’s 10 MPs are also under spiralling pressure from grass roots members and their Stormont politicians to agree to a deal to hold off growing Republican calls for a reunification referendum under a no deal Brexit.
Revealing the significant shift towards the PM, a senior DUP source told The Sun: “If she fails on Tuesday, Parliament will take over and we lose any semblance of a decent Brexit. We have to help her now, so we’ll vote with the Government if they agree the right amendment. That’s looking like a short time limit to the backstop at the moment.”
The story is running hard as a lobby story in both the pro and anti Brexit papers and is not being denied by the DUP.
The Daily Telegraph understands it is likely the DUP will vote for an amendment brought forward by Sir Graham Brady, the 1922 chairman, which says MPs will support Theresa May’s deal if the backstop is swapped for “alternative arrangements”.
Sir Graham’s plan, if agreed by a majority of MPs, would provide Mrs May with evidence to take to Brussels to show the EU a deal is within reach if the bloc is willing to drop its opposition to renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement.
Meanwhile, sources said Sir Graham was encouraged by Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, to pursue the amendment which, with the expected backing of the DUP, has emerged as the favoured route to salvaging the Prime Minister’s deal.
It came as Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the DUP, said the “trap of the backstop” remained the problem for his party.
“There are ways forward which do not require this backstop and we need to see a willingness to explore such options.”
Meanwhile it emerged on Friday that the Democratic Unionist party, which is strongly opposed to Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement, is poised to back an amendment by senior Tory MPs to the prime minister’s Brexit Plan B. The amendment, tabled by Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, calls for the so-called Irish backstop in the agreement to be replaced by a new, unspecified mechanism. The backstop is designed to avoid a hard Irish border, but the DUP opposes how it would treat Northern Ireland differently to mainland Britain, while Eurosceptic Tory MPs object to the UK being tied into a customs union with the EU.
An alternative amendment by NI committee chair Andrew Murrison setting a time limit to the backstop has found little favour because it has already been turned down by Michel Barnier. Something so studiously vague may stand a better chance of support from a party majority that no longer believes it can stampede the EU. The the hope is that passing the May deal against the odds might impress the EU at least to agree to extend Article 50 on mainly Conservative rather than Labour terms. And passing the deal takes No Deal off the table in the Withdrawal Act. It’s all very Westminster bubble stuff.
Will it really impress the EU?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London