DUP to resume Brexit talks with senior Tories on Monday

Nigel Dodds said the DUP delegation was having 'significant discussions' with the Tory government. Picture by Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

THE DUP is to resume discussions with the British government on Monday ahead of an expected third Westminster vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal next week.

A party delegation led by deputy leader Nigel Dodds yesterday met a range of high-ranking Tories amid continued efforts to persuade MPs to support the withdrawal agreement.

The North Belfast MP described the discussions as "constructive".

With the UK's scheduled departure from the EU now less than a fortnight away, senior British government figures are intensifying efforts to win over Arlene Foster's party and the eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG).

The DUP and ERG are opposed to the withdrawal agreement's backstop, claiming the insurance policy for maintaining a frictionless border could see Northern Ireland treated differently from Britain.

The deal agreed with the EU in November has been decisively rejected by MPs twice already but Mrs May is expected to bring it back to Westminster for a third so-called meaningful vote next week.

Following yesterday's discussions, which took place while party leader Arlene Foster was preparing to return from a three-day visit to the USA, Mr Dodds said the British government was now "very focused" on addressing the issue of the backstop.

The DUP deputy said extra cash for Northern Ireland had not been discussed with Chancellor Philip Hammond.

"The chancellor of the exchequer is obviously a key member of the government, but he is also responsible for HMRC and the whole issue of their involvement in customs and other regulatory issues is a key concern for us," he said.

Other ministers involved in the talks included David Lidington, Michael Gove and Julian Smith, he said.

Mr Dodds said the discussions also touched on securing a role for any future Stormont administration in how the backstop operates.

"From day one, our focus has been on the red line of how Northern Ireland is treated separately from the rest of the UK," he said.

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has also sought to provide further legal assurances about the backstop.

The talks come as European leaders consider whether to agree to UK calls for Britain's departure to be delayed.

MPs backed a bid to push back Brexit beyond the scheduled date of March 29 on Thursday night.

Former cabinet minister Esther McVey has suggested Brexiteers could back Mrs May's deal next week in order to make sure the UK leaves the EU.

"The element now is that people will have to take a bad deal rather than no deal," she told the BBC.

Sinn Féin's Chris Hazzard last night called on the DUP and Tory Brexiteers to step back from the "cliff edge" of a no deal Brexit.

“The only way to avoid a no-deal Brexit is to see the only deal on the table - the withdrawal agreement and the backstop it contains - receiving support next week," he said.

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