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DUP fails to back May as party tries to silence talk of Tory coup

Criticism: PM Theresa May has not pleased the DUP’s Nigel Dodds
Criticism: PM Theresa May has not pleased the DUP’s Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds

By Lisa Smyth and Harriet Line

The DUP has failed to give its backing to Theresa May as rumours of a possible leadership coup by Cabinet ministers gather pace.

The Prime Minister held "lengthy" talks with prominent Brexiteer backbenchers yesterday as she battles to save her beleaguered deal ahead of another crunch week in Westminster.

But her government's survival is also highly dependent upon DUP votes in the Commons.

Asked to state support for Mrs May as Prime Minister, a spokesman for the DUP last night said: "The leadership of the Conservative Party is entirely a matter for the Conservative Party."

The response is in contrast to the unambiguous backing given to Mrs May by her de facto deputy David Lidington, who has insisted he is "100% behind" her.

Another potential caretaker prime minister, Michael Gove, also came out to say that it is "not the time to change the captain of the ship".

However, the DUP's failure to give explicit backing to Mrs May is significant, as its votes on any Brexit deal could prove crucial.

It comes just days after the DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds strongly criticised Mrs May for failing to secure an acceptable withdrawal agreement.

He said: "As we have always said, negotiations with the EU inevitably go down to the wire and the Government has been far too willing to capitulate before securing the necessary changes which would get an agreement through the House of Commons."

Continuing the furious broadside, Mr Dodds said the Government had "consistently settled for inferior compromises when they didn't need to".

And he insisted Mrs May should have continued to negotiate with the EU to press for changes to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister invited Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Davis, among others, to her country residence to discuss whether there is sufficient support among MPs to bring the withdrawal agreement before the Commons for a third time this week.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The PM and a number of Government ministers met at Chequers for lengthy talks with senior colleagues about delivering Brexit.

"The meeting discussed a range of issues, including whether there is sufficient support in the Commons to bring back a Meaningful Vote this week."

Former ministers Steve Baker, Dominic Raab, Damian Green and Iain Duncan Smith were also in attendance.

Chief Whip Julian Smith, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis, Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt were present from the Government.

Chancellor Philip Hammond accused those allegedly trying to topple Mrs May of being "self-indulgent", while Mr Duncan Smith told ministers who briefed against the Prime Minister to apologise and "shut up".

Meanwhile, Mr Barclay warned the risk of a general election would increase if MPs took control of parliamentary proceedings this week and brought about a "constitutional collision".

The Sunday Times claimed 11 Cabinet ministers wanted Mrs May to make way for someone else and Mr Lidington was in line to take over the helm.

But the Mail on Sunday reported ministers were plotting to install Environment Secretary Mr Gove as a caretaker leader.

Mr Gove told the BBC: "I think this is a time for cool heads. But we absolutely do need to focus on the task at hand and that's making sure that we get the maximum possible support for the Prime Minister and her deal."

He added: "It's not the time to change the captain of the ship, I think what we need to do is to chart the right course."

Mr Lidington said: "I don't think that I've any wish to take over from the PM, who I think is doing a fantastic job.

"I tell you this - one thing that working closely with the Prime Minister does is cure you completely of any lingering shred of ambition to want to do that task. I have absolute admiration for the way she is going about it."

Despite heavy criticism of Mrs May's handling of the Brexit process and calls from members of her party to stand aside, the Chancellor insisted ousting her would not "solve the problem".

"To be talking about changing the players on the board frankly is self-indulgent at this time," Mr Hammond told Sky News's Sophy Ridge On Sunday.

"This is not about the Prime Minister or any other individual, this is about the future of our country. Changing Prime Minister wouldn't help us, changing the party in government wouldn't help us - we've got to address the question of what type of Brexit is acceptable to Parliament."

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