We’ll topple government if May gives in to Brussels, says DUP
Theresa May was warned by the DUP that it would be prepared to bring down her government if she signs up to a compromise with Brussels to solve the Irish border question next week.
In an explicit threat to the prime minister before a critical five days of negotiations in Brussels, the party threatened to withdraw support for the budget later this month unless it was happy with the final deal. The DUP underlined its point by abstaining in a Commons vote in which it would normally have been expected to support the government.
The move, which involved a Labour amendment to the agriculture bill, was co-ordinated with Tory Brexiteers, understands. It was designed to put maximum pressure on May from her own party not to compromise on the Irish backstop issue, which stops additional checks at the border whatever the Brexit outcome. Downing Street was given no warning of the DUP threat which, if followed through, could lead to the Conservatives losing their
‘‘It is unacceptable that we would be treated differently to the rest of the UK,’’ a senior DUP source said. ‘‘We will not be bounced into anything. If Theresa May doesn’t take our concerns on board, she may not be the leader to take us through Brexit.’’
Today the prime minister is due to meet a group of senior cabinet ministers, including the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, and the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, to brief them on the negotiations. It is being seen as an attempt to build support for a compromise before a formal cabinet discussion on a potential deal on Tuesday.
Downing Street played down the significance of the meeting but key Brexiteers, including Penny Mordaunt, Esther McVey and Liam Fox, are understood not to have been invited. Some made clear they were deeply unhappy by their exclusion.
‘‘You want to be at these meetings right now because it’s crunch time,’’ said a source close to one of the uninvited cabinet ministers. ‘‘Is the idea that those majority in Westminster. who aren’t there are not regarded as supportive?’’
Shortly after the DUP threat, Boris Johnson accused May of negotiating a backstop solution that would turn Britain into a ‘‘permanent EU colony’’.
The former foreign secretary said that any attempt to keep the UK in an open-ended customs union was ignoring what ‘‘the biggest majority in our history voted for’’ and was allowing the UK to be sucked into an arrangement that would preclude new trade deals.
In Brussels Michel Barnier, the EU’s lead negotiator, suggested that a deal could be in sight and hinted that intensive negotiations over the future relationship after Brexit could ‘‘eliminate’’ most border checks.
He described the EU’s backstop proposal for a border in the Irish Sea as ‘‘just a safety net’’, needed because the details of a future trade and customs relationship would not be agreed until after Brexit next March. ‘‘The future relationship itself might mitigate the checks and even make some unnecessary,’’ he told a business audience in Brussels.
Talks this week are focused on the backstop, which would keep Britain within a customs union with the EU after Brexit ‘‘to apply ... until another solution’’ supersedes the need for it, an arrangement that will effectively be indefinite.
A senior source in Westminster said that a meeting between the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, and Barnier earlier this week had led to the party’s threat yesterday.
They said that Barnier had outlined how he saw a proposed compromise working which was at odds with what the party had been told by Downing Street. It is understood to involve regulatory checks on goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland which the DUP has ruled out. ‘‘They came out of that meeting very angry,’’ said one source.
– The Times
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