Prime Minister battles to save Brexit deal with efforts to woo DUP
Theresa May will continue efforts to salvage her Brexit deal amid further signs of pressure on her position.
Further talks are expected over the coming days with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the hope that persuading the 10 Northern Irish MPs to back the deal will help sway scores of Tory Eurosceptics to fall into line.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said lengthy talks on Friday with senior ministers including Chancellor Philip Hammond were “constructive” and there was a “renewed focus” from the Government on addressing their concerns.
Mr Dodds said: “We have had a constructive dialogue. Those discussions will continue over the coming period of time.”
The Prime Minister is expected to bring her Withdrawal Agreement back for a third vote early next week despite its overwhelming 149-vote defeat on Tuesday.
It has been a bruising week for the Prime Minister, with her Cabinet in open revolt as the focus on her leadership intensified.
The Daily Telegraph reported two senior Downing Street figures believe she should “fall on her sword” by setting out the timetable for her departure.
Earlier this week, Tory MP George Freeman, a former head of Mrs May’s policy board, said “we need to choose a new leader” with a vision to “make sense of Brexit” and Conservative veteran Sir Christopher Chope said he would “seriously consider” voting against her in a Commons confidence motion.
Brussels has begun preparations for a possible delay to Brexit beyond the current March 29 deadline after MPs backed an extension to the Article 50 process.
Documents circulating among EU ambassadors make clear the bloc would terminate the UK’s membership on July 1 if it has not taken part in European Parliament elections.
The draft paper obtained by the Financial Times makes clear Britain has to take part in the May 23-26 votes if it wants an extension of more than three months.
The EU guidance echoes the briefing provided to MPs at Westminster before Thursday’s vote, which said “if the UK were to seek an extension beyond July 1, and hence remain a member state beyond that point, it would need to participate in the EP elections”.
Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who voted against the Government motion requesting an Article 50 extension, indicated he would prefer a no-deal departure from the bloc to a long delay.
He told the BBC: “If we get the deal through as I hope we still will, we will now need a short, technical extension.
“But, if not, we shouldn’t be afraid to leave with no deal.”
Former Cabinet minister Esther McVey suggested fellow Brexiteers could back Mrs May’s “rubbish” deal next week to make sure the UK leaves the EU.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Political Thinking With Nick Robinson podcast: “The element now is that people will have to take a bad deal rather than no deal.”
Any Brexit delay will require the agreement of the other 27 European Union members, with talks about any conditions for an extension set to begin before leaders gather at a summit next week.
European Council president Donald Tusk met Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague on Friday, before talks with the bloc’s key power brokers Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron on Monday.
Following the talks, Mr Rutte said the current Withdrawal Agreement is the “only deal on the table”.
Meanwhile, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage will set out on his March to Leave, starting in Sunderland later on Saturday and arriving in Westminster on March 29.