Leaked emails re­veal DUP chief ‘ready for no-deal Brexit’

 Crash­ing out ‘most likely out­come’ - Foster  Pes­simism fol­lows Barnier meet­ing

The Observer - - Front Page - Daniel Bof­fey, Toby Helm & Michael Sav­age

Theresa May has been told that the DUP leader, Ar­lene Foster, is “ready” to trig­ger a no-deal Brexit and now re­gards this as the “like­li­est out­come” fol­low­ing a “hos­tile and dif­fi­cult” ex­change with the EU’s chief ne­go­tia­tor, an ex­plo­sive set of emails leaked from the high­est lev­els of govern­ment re­veal.

Foster emerged from a meet­ing last week in Brus­sels with Michel Barnier, the French of­fi­cial lead­ing the EU’s ne­go­ti­at­ing team, con­vinced that the prospects for a Brexit deal were fad­ing so fast that, given Brus­sels’ stance on North­ern Ire­land, an agree­ment was the least likely out­come. Se­nior govern­ment ad­vis­ers were swiftly in­formed that the DUP leader was “ready” for the UK to crash out of the EU without a deal.

Ac­cord­ing to the pri­vate email ex­change, seen by the Ob­server, Foster told Ash­ley Fox, leader of the Con­ser­va­tive MEPs, over a din­ner that day about her dis­ap­point­ment at the meet­ing with Barnier, and its im­pact on her think­ing. “She de­scribed Barnier as be­ing dif­fi­cult and hos­tile in her meet­ing to­day…” the leaked email re­ports. “AF [Ar­lene Foster] said the DUP were ready for a no deal sce­nario, which she now be­lieved was the like­li­est one.”

Last week, the DUP, whose 10 MPs prop up May’s govern­ment, made it clear they would be pre­pared to vote down the bud­get later this month, if the govern­ment pressed ahead with a Brexit deal that tied North­ern Ire­land closer to the EU than the rest of the UK. Los­ing a bud­get vote would plunge the govern­ment into cri­sis, demon­strat­ing its in­abil­ity to drive through its do­mes­tic pro­gramme.

News of the emails comes amid new in­fight­ing in May’s cabi­net over Brexit. The prime min­is­ter will make a fi­nal ap­peal for min­is­te­rial unity over Brexit on Tues­day, at a cabi­net meet­ing, amid ru­mours that more se­nior

min­is­ters could soon fol­low Boris John­son and David Davis out of the govern­ment.

Sev­eral cabi­net min­is­ters, in­clud­ing leader of the Com­mons An­drea Lead­som and work and pen­sions sec­re­tary Es­ther McVey, are this week­end said to be “se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing their po­si­tions” be­cause they be­lieve May’s cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions would leave open the pos­si­bil­ity of the UK re­main­ing in the EU cus­toms union for good.

The min­is­ters say that if this were to be the case, the UK would never fully leave the EU. One source said eight or nine cabi­net min­is­ters had se­ri­ous con­cerns.

The ten­sions have arisen be­cause the EU has made it clear it will refuse to sign an over­all with­drawal agree­ment – paving the way for a tran­si­tion deal and the open­ing of talks on a EU-UK trade deal – if the UK in­sists on spec­i­fy­ing a date by which cus­toms “back­stop” ar­range­ments de­signed to pre­vent a hard bor­der in North­ern Ire­land must end.

Euroscep­tic min­is­ters have in­sisted, how­ever, that a date must be spec­i­fied in any deal, to re­as­sure peo­ple that the UK is se­ri­ous about leav­ing EU struc­tures. The Ob­server un­der­stands that the prime min­is­ter will try to get agree­ment for a com­pro­mise po­si­tion un­der which the UK’s in­ten­tion to leave EU cus­toms ar­range­ments as soon as pos­si­ble will be spelled out through lan­guage, rather than by nam­ing a spe­cific date.

Govern­ment sources said ru­mours that Brexit sec­re­tary Do­minic Raab might quit were overblown. May will at­tempt to fi­nalise the terms of a with­drawal deal at a sum­mit in Brus­sels be­gin­ning on Wed­nes­day evening.

Mean­while the dif­fi­cul­ties the prime min­is­ter will have in push­ing any deal she may se­cure through par­lia­ment are high­lighted to­day by new anal­y­sis that sug­gests she will have to rely on the sup­port of more than a dozen Labour MPs to avoid her Brexit deal be­ing tor­pe­doed.

Ac­cord­ing to re­searchers who ex­am­ined sources in­clud­ing pub­lic state­ments, in­ter­views and vot­ing records of ev­ery MP in the House of Com­mons, May will need at least 14 Labour MPs to sup­port her Brexit plans if they are to be passed in a vote ex­pected to take place at the end of the year.

That rises to at least 24 should the DUP end its sup­port for the govern­ment. The union­ist party is threat­en­ing to aban­don May should she sign up to a Brexit with­drawal agree­ment that treats North­ern Ire­land dif­fer­ently from main­land Bri­tain.

The stark re­search by the Edel­man pub­lic af­fairs con­sul­tancy found that while May needs 320 votes to se­cure a ma­jor­ity, she can only rely on the sup­port of 277 of the 314 Tory MPs and two for­mer Tories who now sit as in­de­pen­dents.

It pre­dicts that 18 of the 37 hard­line Tory Brex­iters are “po­ten­tially per­suad­able”.

How­ever, even with them on side, along with the DUP and an­other in­de­pen­dent North­ern Ir­ish union­ist MP, May is still 14 votes short of a ma­jor­ity.

Pawel Swidlicki, the Brexit an­a­lyst who led the Edel­man re­search, said: “The good news for the PM is that she has a nar­row path to­wards a ma­jor­ity. The bad news is that this not only re­quires rec­on­cil­ing the DUP with the back­stop, but also win­ning over a raft of strongly pro-Brexit Tory MPs and a hand­ful of Labour rebels.”

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