Ken Clarke slams Theresa May for spending time on 'sectarian Protestant' DUP

Ken Clarke called the DUP "this sectarian Protestant party"Ken Clarke called the DUP "this sectarian Protestant party" 

CONSERVATIVE MP Ken Clarke has criticised British prime minister Theresa May over her attempts to keep the DUP onside.

The unionist party, which has a supply and demand agreement with Mrs May's Tories, voted against the prime minister's Brexit withdrawal agreement but backed her in a vote of confidence last night.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, Mr Clarke said Mrs May was spending "all her time on party management, trying to keep hardline Brexiteers & this sectarian Protestant party in Ireland onside."

"She's still going back to the DUP trying to satisfy their unbelievably silly points on the Irish backstop," the veteran Tory and former chancellor said.

MPs are set to debate and vote on British prime minister Theresa May's new Brexit plan on January 29.

Mrs May will present her new plan on EU withdrawal to parliament on January 21 after her original withdrawal agreement was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs on Tuesday.

The prime minister and senior Cabinet ministers are meeting representatives of other parties in a bid to find consensus to break the parliamentary deadlock over Brexit.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said the Irish border backstop is still her party's biggest concern in the Brexit negotiation.

Speaking outside Downing Street with fellow DUP politician Nigel Dodds, she said: "We are optimistic. We want to see a Withdrawal Agreement that works for the whole of the United Kingdom and one that works for the European Union.

"The way to do that is to deal with the backstop."

Her deputy Nigel Dodds said: "[Theresa May] has a way through this and the problem for a lot of her own backbenchers and of course for us has been the backstop and if she can address that issue in a satisfactory way and if the EU realise this is the issue holding up the withdrawal agreement then we can make progress."

He said the details on how progress could be made are being discussed but that it was not "useful to give too much of a running comment on the details of that".

Mr Dodds said there were "a lot of good engagements going on and we'll continue to work at it".

The Labour Labour accused Mrs May of failing to show "good faith" by insisting that she will not drop her negotiating red lines.

Speaking this morning leader Jeremy Corbyn said that after Mrs May's defeat in parliament on Tuesday, it was "clear that her EU deal is now finished".

Read More: Dublin prepares for no-deal

"There can be no question of tweaks or sweeteners from Brussels to bring it back to life," he said.

"The prime minister seems completely unable to grasp what has actually happened. She seems to be prepared to send the country hurtling towards a cliff edge.

"To get a deal that can command a majority in parliament, Theresa May has to ditch the red lines and get serious about proposals for the future."

Mr Corbyn dismissed Theresa May's cross-party talks on Brexit as a "stunt".

In a speech in Hastings, he said: "Last night's offer of talks with party leaders turned out to be simply a stunt, not the serious attempt to engage with the new reality that is needed."

Brian Feeney: Theresa May must be replaced by someone who can get cross-party cooperation on Brexit

He added: "I say to the prime minister again: I am quite happy to talk but the starting point for any talks about Brexit must be that the threat of a disastrous no-deal outcome is ruled out, taken off the table, and we can talk about the future of the plans that we will put forward and the future relationship with Europe."

In a direct message to Mrs May, Mr Corbyn said: "Take no-deal off the table now please prime minister."

Downing Street said meetings would be held with MPs representing the "whole range" of opinion across the House, including some backbench Labour MPs.

Some MPs were meeting with the Prime Minister and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay while others were seeing Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

"We expect people to come with their own views and ideas. These are going to be discussed," the prime minister's official spokesman said.

"Clearly there are some areas we aren't going to agree on. But the very purpose of the meetings is to find areas where there is some consensus to find a way forward."

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