Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Theresa May still needs DUP support but while Brexit backstop remains she won’t have it

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The fate of Theresa May has hung in the balance for what seems like forever, but in the end it took just a single minute for us to hear the verdict of the jury last night.

It seemed a bit of an anti-climax. In Committee Room 14 in the House of Commons, five Tory men and one woman stood stiffly to attention at 9pm to make the announcement.

"The result of the ballot held this evening is that the parliamentary party does have confidence in Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party," declared backbench chairman Sir Graham Brady.

Turnout among MPs was better than even the most fiercely contested sectarian head-count in Fermanagh and South Tyrone - 100% of the Tories 317 MPs voted, and not a single ballot paper was spoilt.

But there was no real victor and no out-and-out loser in what should have been an end of year conclusion to this long-running political drama.

There was applause from Theresa May's supporters as the result was declared, and they understandably insisted 'a win is a win'.

No further challenge can be made to the Prime Minister from within her party over the next 12 months so this does give her a bit of a breathing space, although it doesn't bring any answers.

The House of Commons remains as divided as ever on the way forward on Brexit. Something was needed to break the political paralysis but last night's result doesn't provide that momentum for change.

The Tory rebels didn't gain the ground they hoped but neither did Mrs May drive a stake through their heart.

Parliamentary arithmetic means she still needs the DUP's support to get her deal passed and while the backstop remains she won't have that - there are no ifs or buts on that one.

The DUP insisted all yesterday that it didn't have a dog in the Tory leadership fight. The party is far too cute to have publicly voiced support for any of the contenders for the Conservative crown.

But make no mistake about it - had Mrs May lost, the DUP's attitude would have been 'good riddance'.

The party just doesn't trust the Prime Minister personally any more. It would have been far more content moving forward with Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt or Sajid Javid.

The Duppers last night did sound deflated that the Prime Minister would be limping on.

Mrs Foster issued only a terse 54-word statement on the result. But with a make-or-break 10 MPs, the DUP still holds all the cards.

The focus now surely shifts to the EU and Dublin. Are they going to continue playing hardball with the government or will they throw some compromise Mrs May's way?

Many in Brussels have been clearly banking on putting so much pressure on London that a U-turn on the entire Brexit project is forced in Westminster.

So far that hasn't happened and the risks of a no-deal scenario are significant for the EU and Dublin in particular.

The battle for the Tory leadership ended last night but there is still so much to play for on the wider political stage as the countdown continues to March 29.

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