Westminster might it be on its Christmas holidays, but the question that is still on everyone in government’s mind is can Theresa May find a way to get the DUP to back her Brexit deal. As I write in The Sun this morning, key Cabinet Ministers believe that her only chance of winning the meaningful vote comes from getting the DUP on side.
One Secretary of State who has kept open lines of communication with them, tells me that ‘by grim necessity, they will need something more than cosmetic concessions to vote for the deal’. This minister explains that ‘the DUP want a bankable reassurance that the backstop won’t be permanent and that there won’t be progressive divergence between Great Britain and Northern Ireland’.
I understand from those involved in the negotiations that ‘the DUP want to sort things out’. But the changes they want are significant—and the EU aren’t going to offer them up straightaway.
The best way to get these changes might be to have parliament vote for them and tell the EU that this is how the deal can get through and see if they are prepared to talk about it, or whether they’ll collapse the entire Brexit negotiation over these additions.
But one senior Cabinet Minister laments that ‘Number 10 are miles away from being in that position.’ This Secretary of State is adamant that they are ‘going to have to move’.
Intriguingly, I am told that the Irish have, via diplomatic backchannels, communicated that one of the reasons they wouldn’t give May what she wanted at last week’s European Council was that they weren’t certain that what she was asking for would satisfy the DUP. I understand that privately senior Irish figures have been making clear that if they knew exactly what the DUP wanted, they could then engage with that.
Getting the DUP to support the deal is vital for May because without that there is no chance of reducing the Tory rebellion down to a manageable size. The fate of May’s Brexit deal may well turn on whether or not she can get enough to satisfy the DUP.