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Knife-edge vote looms as DUP bids to head off Brexit plan

MPs in the House of Commons (PA)
MPs in the House of Commons (PA)
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Gregory Campbell
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP has said today's crunch House of Commons vote is "too close to call" as it intensively lobbies MPs to oppose the Prime Minister's deal.

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But hopes were growing last night that Boris Johnson could win over enough ERG members, Tory rebels, and Labour MPs in Leave constituencies to bring him over the line.

Westminster sources said he was "very slightly edging ahead".

Bookmakers Paddy Power believe he will do it, offering 4/6 odds of his deal being passed to 11/10 of it failing.

Asked for his prediction on the vote, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: "It's likely to be very close. I don't think anyone can predict at this stage which way the vote will go.

"It's clear that the Government are going to have to persuade a significant number of Labour MPs to back their deal, if they are going to get it through.

"I think they are probably a bit short at the moment on that, but a lot could happen between now and then."

The Prime Minister last night said he wanted the UK to "move on" from Brexit which he described as "divisive".

If every MP votes, he needs 320 votes for a majority, but if some abstain that number will come down.

However, an amendment by expelled Tory rebel Sir Oliver Letwin could thwart any possible Johnson victory.

It could force the Government into delaying Brexit even if the deal is approved. The amendment would withhold MPs' approval until the full legislation to implement the agreement is put into law.

The Prime Minister appealed to MPs to rally behind his Brexit deal and insisted there was no better outcome.

"I just kind of invite everybody to imagine what it could be like [this] evening, if we have settled this, and we have respected the will of the people, because we will then have a chance to move on," he told the BBC.

"I hope that people will think: 'What do our constituents really want? Do they want us to keep going with this argument, do they want more division and delay?'"

DUP MP Gregory Campbell and his nine party colleagues are engaging in last-minute lobbying of MPs to prevent the deal going through.

He said: "We have been speaking to people on all sides of the House who see the shortfalls of this deal.

"We will continue those conversations and encourage as many MPs as possible to join us in opposing this rushed deal.

"We are not no-deal unionists. We want to see a deal but we cannot support one which places trade barriers between one part of the UK and another."

Mr Campbell added: "Whether the deal is successful or not, that is not the end. Subsequent decisions will have to be made and we will use our 10 votes during those debates."

But Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann accused the DUP of being "asleep at the wheel" during its extensive Brexit talks with the Government.

He described as "pompous" and "bombastic" some previous DUP predictions on what it had secured on Brexit.

Mr Swann said: "Looking at where Northern Ireland has landed in the wake of the deal announced this week by the DUP's partner Boris Johnson, the only rational conclusion is that unionism has been done over. The DUP was asleep at the wheel.

"We repeatedly warned them of the folly of their approach, but they knew better.

"They clapped and cheered Boris Johnson to the rafters at their reception at the Conservative Party conference and just days later he turned them over."

Mr Swann said he hoped that pro-Union Tory and Labour MPs would "delve deep into their consciences before the vote to consider which is more important - the integrity of the Union or the pursuit of a Brexit deal with Northern Ireland thrown overboard?"

Alliance leader Stephen Farry said: "If Brexit happens, there needs to be a deal.

"It is hard to be optimistic given the past few years, but Alliance is clear any withdrawal agreement must recognise the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, ensure open borders, protect our economy and respect the Good Friday Agreement fully.

"We will keep an open mind and judge anything on these lines.

"We would encourage others to be measured and not rush to judgment."

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