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Dodds says DUP will 'wait and see' what next few days bring

Conservative MP Owen Paterson and deputy leader of the DUP Nigel Dodds
Conservative MP Owen Paterson and deputy leader of the DUP Nigel Dodds
Conservative MP Theresa Villiers waves as she arrives at 10 Downing Street

By David Wilcock

Nigel Dodds held out the possibility of movement on Theresa May's Brexit deal last night after a drinks reception hosted by the Prime Minister, saying he would "wait and see" what happens in the next few days.

The meeting was one of a series being organised by Mrs May, who arranged the function for MPs as part of a charm offensive to win support for the Brexit deal.

It was scheduled after 209 MPs from across the Commons signed a letter to the Prime Minister urging her to rule out a no-deal Brexit.

The letter was organised by Tory former Cabinet minister Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour's Jack Dromey.

All signatories to the letter were invited to meet the Prime Minister in Downing Street today.

Mr Dodds, the DUP's Westminster leader, described the reception as a "very pleasant social occasion".

But asked whether words of comfort from the EU would be enough to change his party's stance on the deal, said: "Let us wait and see what comes forth in the course of the next few days but there hasn't been much so far, so we'll see what happens in the next little while."

Conservative former Northern Ireland Secretary and Brexiteer Theresa Villiers said Mrs May's drinks reception had not changed her view on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal.

Ms Villiers told reporters outside: "This evening certainly hasn't changed my view - I won't be voting to support (the deal)."

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill said Brexit was only 14 weeks away yet the DUP were still refusing to accept the majority view of the people, business community and wider civic society in Northern Ireland who support the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop as the best insurance policy to protect the economy, the Good Friday Agreement and to prevent a hard border.

"The deal currently on the table is by no means ideal, but it is the least-bad option for Ireland," she said.

"It is a moderate solution to a problem created in England and forced upon us against our will.

"By contrast, a no-deal situation would be catastrophic for our economy and society."

Earlier, the European Union said it had no plans for talks on renegotiating the Brexit deal after the Prime Minister said she was seeking "further assurances" from Brussels.

With a vote on the Withdrawal Agreement expected to take place next Tuesday, a European Commission spokesman said there were no talks planned for this week.

Margaritis Schinas said that the agreed Brexit deal was "the best and the only deal possible" and the Commission was focused on watching what happened in the vote.

Without some activity from Brussels, Mrs May is expected to lose the so-called meaningful vote, which was postponed in December when it became clear the Government would be defeated.

Mrs May said yesterday she was still working to get concessions that would appease rebellious MPs. Speaking at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool at the launch of the NHS Long-Term Plan, she said work was still ongoing and claimed that there had been "some further movement" from the EU at the December European Council meeting.

She said: "In the coming days, what we will set out is not just about the EU but also about what we can do domestically.

"So we will be setting out measures which will be specific to Northern Ireland, we will be setting out proposals for a greater role for Parliament as we move into the next stage of the negotiation and we are continuing to work on further assurances on further undertakings from the European Union in relation to the concern that has been expressed by parliamentarians."

However, her speech came minutes after Mr Schinas had said that, while Mrs May would speak to EC president Jean-Claude Juncker this week, "there is no negotiation because everything on the table has been established as approved, established, achieved".

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