After May’s latest defeat, the DUP are feeling isolated over the border. Is Angela Merkel riding to the rescue?

Although decisive  the reduced margin has put the alliance between the ERG and the DUP under great strain.

As the BBC’s Laura Kuennsberg has tweeted:

“A brief marriage ends. DUP learning today that many in ERG = Brexiteers first Unionists second. DUP = Unionists first and Brexiteers second. So DUP would countenance long extension / customs union over PM’s deal while some ERG will support PM’s deal ”

The DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds has made his choice

‘I would stay in the European Union and remain rather than risk Northern Ireland’s position. That’s how strongly I feel about the union.

We want to see Brexit delivered, we believe the referendum result should be respected and delivered on but it can’t be at the risk of separating Northern Ireland out from the rest of the United Kingdom.

He isn’t speaking entirely literally of course. Just as well  for his own cause. Because taking it literally would  invite the equally radical rejoinder that the Brexiteers’ problems with the backstop  for GB would be solved if there was a united Ireland. Sammy Wilson has spotted this one. He told Watt:

“if this goes through this could put NI out of the UK.”

The ERG leader Jacob Rees Mogg  quietly made his choice for the May deal despite his repeated protestations  that his vote was tied to the DUP’s decision.

Dodds echoed a ccall from the former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab who while voting for the May deal called on the prime minister  to revert to the Brady amendment and demand “alternative arrangements” to the backstop from the EU.  At the very moment of her latest defeat Dodds emotionally called on Mrs May to reopen the backstop issue.

 She knows that that remains the problem. She knows that Michel Barnier and Leo Varadkar have said this week that in a no-deal scenario, there will be no hard border. Please, Prime Minister, even now, use the time constructively to get that matter sorted out.

There can hardly have been many inside the chamber and out  who found this pitch remotely  credible, even from Raab who sees himself as a candidate  for prime minister. The latest defeat leaves the government  casting about for a strategy PDQ if the UK isn’t to crash out on 22 May or  forced to submit to EU terms for  a long extension on condition that they hold a referendum or a general election.

It would be  the most dramatic development yet  if it was Angela Merkel who “sorted it all out.” The spotlight is now being turned on Ireland’s stance of the border and their preparations for a possible No Deal in a couple of months. The German chancellor will be flying to Dublin to deliver a message. Leo Vardkar’s  determination to keep the border open will be put to the test. The Irish Times’ Berlin correspondent Derek  Scally’s latest report suggests  Mrs Merkel is planning a major  intervention   over the backstop and the border.

She has tolerated no Brexit solo runs from her officials, party backbenchers or even business leaders. Holding the line with Dublin is about holding Europe together – a priority for every German postwar leader.

Though that discipline has held, the German leader has been increasing pressure on Mr Varadkar in private – during phone calls and at EU leaders’ meetings in Brussels – on how he purposes to square the Brexit circle. On a trip to Japan in February she suggested a “creative” approach to Brexit could see outstanding backstop questions pushed into talks on the future EU-UK relationship.

“We have an agreement for the future relationship, and in this future relationship one can of course address the questions that now still have to be discussed, for instance the questions that have to do with the backstop,” she said.

“There are no doubt possibilities to ensure, on the one hand, the integrity of the single market . . . even when Northern Ireland’s doesn’t belong to it because it belongs to the UK, and the wish, if possible, to allow for no controls on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and to solve this point.”

After a crisis-filled 14 years on the EU stage, Merkel is Europe’s longest-serving leader. She has shown an astonishing capacity to swallow entire forests of EU paper-work on bailouts, banking union and more.

She loves gristly detail, and those in the know say the German leader has become an expert on the finer points of the Belfast Agreement.

What if, she wants to know from the Taoiseach, Ireland becomes a victim of the law of unintended consequences and his insistence on the backstop causes a no-deal Brexit – vaporising the backstop and forcing a hard border? She may be in her final political act, but German leader is coming to Ireland

The UK government’s best hope of retrieving their position is  to submit the deal in a  run-off with the  indicative votes on Monday. Merkel is not alone in linking the out working of the backstop with the agenda for the future relationship. Combined with May’s proposals  for the Stormont lock,  Merkel’s ideas for incorporating a review of the backstop in an enhanced political declaration could provide  a way through for the hard Brexiteers and the  DUP.

Internally the DUP have a choice of internal solutions which would  contain the threat of divergence with GB, the most obvious being Common Market 2.0 . 

Ex-Minister ( and sponsor)  Nick Boles held talks with the DUP’s Sammy Wilson and Gavin Robinson on Thursday – 24 hours before today’s crunch vote. And Mr Boles has now modified a ‘Common Market 2.0’ proposal he plans to put before MPs in a second day of voting on Brexit alternatives on Monday in a bid to win their support.

It would guarantee no UK-EU customs checks for agrifoods.

Under a Norway-style Brexit, Britain would remain in the single market and a customs pact with the EU – removing any need for an Irish ‘backstop’ to prevent a hard border with Ireland….

DUP insiders have long argued that one of the biggest worries about the PM’s deal is that Britain could “leave Northern Ireland behind” after Brexit by putting up a virtual customs barrier down the Irish sea.

One source said they were spooked when Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson failed to reassure them he would maintain regulatory alignment with Northern Ireland after Brexit.

Critically it abstained on the Common Market 2.0 proposition in last week’s first round of Indicative Votes – when none of eight different Brexit proposals won a majority.

Earlier this year, sources claimed the DUP was open to a soft Brexit where the whole of the UK would sign up to a customs union with the EU.

Meanwhile preparations are being quietly laid  for the UK to take part in the elections to the European parliament as the price of a long extension of Article 50.

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