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Suzanne Breen: Message is clear that the Union comes first

Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned of a concerted attempt to stop Brexit (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned of a concerted attempt to stop Brexit (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Our political parties are gearing up for the council elections on May 2 with posters already adorning lampposts and candidates hitting the campaign trail. But the party machines could well remain in operation for another three weeks after that because a European election may be on the cards.

The DUP yesterday stated loud and clear that a year-long delay to Brexit - which would necessitate that EU election - is preferable to the Prime Minister's deal and the controversial backstop which the party insists threatens the Union. However staunch Brexiteers Sammy Wilson, Gregory Campbell et al may be, there is no contest if they have to choose between leaving the EU and protecting the Union - the latter will always win hands-down.

There was wild speculation last week that the DUP could be brought around to supporting the Withdrawal Agreement if it was bunged a few million more for Northern Ireland with the scrapping of air passenger duty and perhaps a big new road thrown in.

Those observers have confused the party's confidence-and-supply agreement with its Brexit stance.

Here was Mr Wilson on Sky News yesterday: "We did not sign up to a confidence-and-supply agreement which would see Northern Ireland detached from the rest of the UK. That was never part of the deal and that's now where we've wandered towards because of the way in which the Prime Minister has conducted her negotiations.

"I don't think anyone would expect us - simply because we're in a confidence-and-supply arrangement with them - to sign up to our own death warrant constitutionally."

But while Theresa May has little chance of winning over the DUP, a softening of tone from some hardline Tory Eurosceptics is keeping her deal on life support.

With MPs beginning to vote today on alternatives to the Withdrawal Agreement, there is a growing fear among Conservative Leave backbenchers that they could end up with no Brexit whatsoever or the softest of soft ones.

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said that the Prime Minister's deal "is better than not leaving at all". Comments from Boris Johnson last night indicate that if Mrs May announces she will step down soon, he might support her deal.

If the vast majority of the ERG is scared into reluctantly backing the Withdrawal Agreement, along with enough Labour Brexiteers, there is a chance it could just scrape through the Commons on the third attempt.

But the Prime Minister so far hasn't made her own luck and the odds remain against her.

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