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Prime Minister battles to save Brexit deal with efforts to woo DUP

Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Northern Irish party, said he held ‘constructive’ talks with senior ministers on Friday.

Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, speaks outside the Cabinet Office in London’s Whitehall, where the party is having “ongoing and significant discussions with government” in the aftermath of this week’s Brexit debates in the House of Commons.
Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, speaks outside the Cabinet Office in London’s Whitehall, where the party is having “ongoing and significant discussions with government” in the aftermath of this week’s Brexit debates in the House of Commons.

Theresa May will continue efforts to salvage her Brexit deal amid further signs of pressure on her position.

Further talks are expected over the coming days with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the hope that persuading the 10 Northern Irish MPs to back the deal will help sway scores of Tory Eurosceptics to fall into line.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said lengthy talks on Friday with senior ministers including Chancellor Philip Hammond were “constructive” and there was a “renewed focus” from the Government on addressing their concerns.

Mr Dodds said: “We have had a constructive dialogue. Those discussions will continue over the coming period of time.”

The Prime Minister is expected to bring her Withdrawal Agreement back for a third vote early next week despite its overwhelming 149-vote defeat on Tuesday.

It has been a bruising week for the Prime Minister, with her Cabinet in open revolt as the focus on her leadership intensified.

The Daily Telegraph reported two senior Downing Street figures believe she should “fall on her sword” by setting out the timetable for her departure.

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Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership has been questioned (PA)

Earlier this week, Tory MP George Freeman, a former head of Mrs May’s policy board, said “we need to choose a new leader” with a vision to “make sense of Brexit” and Conservative veteran Sir Christopher Chope said he would “seriously consider” voting against her in a Commons confidence motion.

Brussels has begun preparations for a possible delay to Brexit beyond the current March 29 deadline after MPs backed an extension to the Article 50 process.

Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics suggested a delay of up to two years could be required if MPs continue to reject the Brexit deal.

“Number one priority would be the deal that is reached is passed,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today. “If it is not the case what we need is clear vision from the UK Government how much time UK needs to come up with new proposals, new ideas how we proceed. In that case it’s not a couple of months, I believe then we are talking about maybe one or two years.”

European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans suggested that any extension to Article 50 could be a two-stage process, initially limited to a few weeks unless Mrs May could set out what she wanted to achieve with the extra time.

He told Germany’s Funke newspaper “as long as this isn’t clear, Brexit can only be delayed for a few weeks, solely to avoid a chaotic withdrawal” on March 29.

“During this time, the British must tell us what they want: new elections? A new referendum? Only after that can we talk about a several-month extension,” he added.

Documents circulating among EU ambassadors make clear the bloc would  terminate the UK’s membership on July 1 if it has not taken part in European Parliament elections.

The draft paper obtained by the Financial Times said Britain has to take part in the May 23-26 votes if it wants an extension of more than three months.

The EU guidance echoes the briefing provided to MPs at Westminster before Thursday’s vote, which said “if the UK were to seek an extension beyond July 1, and hence remain a member state beyond that point, it would need to participate in the EP elections”.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who voted against the Government motion requesting an Article 50 extension, indicated he would prefer a no-deal departure from the bloc to a long delay.

He told the BBC: “If we get the deal through as I hope we still will, we will now need a short, technical extension.

“But, if not, we shouldn’t be afraid to leave with no deal.”

Former Cabinet minister Esther McVey suggested fellow Brexiteers could back Mrs May’s “rubbish” deal next week to make sure the UK leaves the EU.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Political Thinking With Nick Robinson podcast: “The element now is that people will have to take a bad deal rather than no deal.”

Any Brexit delay will require the agreement of the other 27 European Union members, with the issue likely to be on the table at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Meanwhile, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage was setting out on his March to Leave, starting in Sunderland and due to arrive in Westminster on March 29.

PA

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