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DUP denies breaking deal as party helps inflict huge defeat on PM

By Andrew Woodcock and David Hughes

The DUP joined forces with opposition parties yesterday to inflict a humiliating defeat on Theresa May.

In dramatic scenes at Westminster, MPs voted by 311 to 293 that the Government had been in contempt of Parliament by not revealing the full legal advice on the Brexit deal.

The embarrassing division came shortly before the Prime Minister was due to open a five-day debate on her deal, amid widespread expectations that her proposals are set for rejection by MPs.

Mrs May's DUP allies - along with Tory MPs Philip Hollobone and Peter Bone - joined opposition parties in the unprecedented contempt move.

It is the first time in modern history that any Government has been found in contempt and means the highly sensitive advice provided by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox will be published, in contravention of long-standing practice.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said his party had been "crucial" in defeating the Government.

"Our votes have been crucial in ensuring that the legal advice will now be published," he told Sky News.

Mr Dodds insisted the DUP was not breaking the confidence and supply arrangement, but claimed Mrs May was not keeping her end of the bargain.

"We signed up to the confidence and supply agreement to support the Government on Brexit on the basis of shared priorities. We haven't broken that, Theresa May unfortunately seems to be going down a road of delivering neither Brexit in its true form or keeping the United Kingdom together economically and politically."

The vote came shortly before Mrs May kicked off a five-day debate ahead of the December 11 "meaningful vote" with a speech lasting more than an hour in which she told MPs she had delivered "the very best deal for the British people" and backed it "with my whole heart".

Before the Prime Minister appeared at the despatch box, her Government had gone down to defeat for the third time in an hour.

MPs backed a move that could put Parliament in the driving seat if the Brexit deal is rejected on December 11 by giving the Commons the power to amend a motion that Mrs May would be required to make within the following 21 days to set out the Government's next steps.

Some 26 Tory MPs - including former ministers Sir Michael Fallon, Damian Green and Sir Oliver Letwin - rebelled on the amendment tabled by ex-attorney general Dominic Grieve. This could open the door for the Commons to throw its weight behind a Norway-style soft Brexit or even a second EU referendum.

Labour's shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the finding of contempt was "a badge of shame" for the Government, with "huge constitutional and political significance".

"By treating Parliament with contempt, the Government has proved it has lost its majority and the respect of the House," Sir Keir said.

"The Prime Minister can't keep pushing Parliament away or avoiding responsible scrutiny."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable repeated calls for a second referendum, saying: "Theresa May's majority has evaporated and the credibility of her deal is evaporating with it."

Asked if Mrs May still felt she could command a majority in the Commons for the crunch vote next Tuesday, a Downing Street source said: "Everybody knows the parliamentary arithmetic.

"The fact is, during the course of this administration we have won the overwhelming majority of votes that have taken place on the floor of the House of Commons."

Opening the debate on the deal she struck in Brussels last month, Mrs May warned: "Don't imagine that if we vote this down another deal is going to miraculously appear. The alternative is uncertainty and risk - the risk Brexit could be stopped, the risk we could crash out with no deal."

She said it would not be in the "national interest" to block the Withdrawal Agreement, adding: "The only certainty would be uncertainty."

MPs' decisions over the next week would "set the course our country takes for decades to come", she said. Mrs May told them: "I promise you today, this is the very best deal for the British people, I ask you to back it in the best interests of our constituents and our country. And with my whole heart I commend this motion to the House."

Meanwhile, Bank of England governor Mark Carney warned a no-deal Brexit could result in shopping bills soaring by 10%. He told the Commons Treasury Committee that increased tariff prices, import costs and a collapse in the value of the pound after a no-deal Brexit would send food prices soaring "quite quickly".

Belfast Telegraph

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