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Suzanne Breen: Whatever form Mrs May's Plan B takes, someone will be shafted

Prime Minister Theresa May's deal was voted down in the Commons on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Theresa May's deal was voted down in the Commons on Tuesday.
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The first politicians spotted after meeting the Prime Minister yesterday were the Brexiteers.

Former Secretaries of State Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers joined David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith and other influential members of the European Research Group (ERG) for an early morning tete-a-tete with Mrs May as part of her Brexit consultation exercise.

The discussion was "very constructive" and "thoroughly worthwhile", said Mr Paterson.

Arlene Foster seemed equally upbeat when she emerged from Downing Street with Nigel Dodds.

The DUP leader spoke of her optimism that an acceptable withdrawal agreement could be reached.

Less happy was Green MP and staunch Remainer Caroline Lucas. The Prime Minister had reportedly ruled out a second referendum at their meeting.

But, as always with Brexit, it wasn't clear-cut or straightforward. Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price, who met Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, was also positive.

"We talked in detail about the practicalities of how we could make it (another referendum) happen," he told the BBC.

"If the Government were to come out on Monday with that position (of another referendum) then the gridlock, the impasse, the logjam would be broken, and we could move forward."

This is not a win-win situation. When Mrs May unveils Plan B, somebody will be shafted.

Former Tory Chancellor Ken Clarke is hoping it will be the DUP.

In a characteristically outspoken interview, he employed language that even a 1980s Jeremy Corbyn never used.

Clarke bemoaned that the Prime Minister was trying to keep "this sectarian Protestant party in Ireland onside". Mr Dodds hit back, describing the Tory grandee as "a decent chap ... but he's in a club of one when it comes to the Conservative Party".

It's the balance of power within her own party that will likely make up Mrs May's mind on the way forward on Brexit.

Within the Cabinet, the Remainers and those wanting a customs union are a minority.

The DUP, Boris Johnson and the ERG are all insisting it is entirely feasible for the Prime Minister to go back to Brussels and argue for changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week that the party was willing to look at a different version of the backstop - "something sensible" which would be time-limited and didn't threaten the Union.

Parliamentary arithmetic means that must be a likely choice for the Prime Minister.

But the odds of Brussels buying it is another matter entirely, and one over which the DUP - unlike at Westminster - has no control.

Belfast Telegraph


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