DUP digs in as Boris Johnson looks to win support for Brexit deal
DUP MPs have dug in over their objection to Boris Johnson's Brexit deal and said they will push for a general election in a bid to help secure "more robust" divorce terms.
The Commons is due to vote on the British prime minister's freshly-inked deal with Brussels on Saturday but the DUP has ruled out walking through the British government's Commons voting lobby.
The vote could come down to the tightest of margins but the unionist outfit, which has a confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative Party, is refusing to get behind the new Withdrawal Agreement over concerns it would amount to "siphoning off" Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
It comes as Mr Johnson is expected to re-ignite his charm offensive towards hardliners on his own benches, with members of the European Research Group (ERG) set for further meetings in Number 10 on Friday.
Mr Johnson returned to London following dinner on Thursday evening in Brussels, skipping day two of the summit as he attempts to shore up support.
The Tory leader has urged parliamentarians to "come together and get this thing done".
But DUP MP Sammy Wilson said his party would continue to hold firm and will vote against the Brexit deal on offer.
The party's Brexit spokesman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I can give you absolute assurance we will not be voting for this deal when it comes before the Commons tomorrow."
Mr Wilson suggested a trip to the polls could help Mr Johnson secure "more robust" terms with the European Union, arguing that leaders in Brussels saw him as "vulnerable" in Parliament without a majority.
"I believe, with a big majority, he can be more robust in his negotiations," Mr Wilson added.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the British government would continue to engage with the DUP to "give them the reassurances we can".
But he defended moves to allow Northern Ireland to stay aligned with EU regulations and customs rules via a "simple majority" in Stormont, rather than need to gain the consent of both communities.
Mr Raab said the UK and EU had settled upon a "reasonable approach" to solving the "undemocratic" nature of the backstop envisioned in Theresa May's rejected deal.
"It seems to me a simple majority of the Northern Ireland assembly to take a decision to remain aligned to those limited rules necessary in order to guarantee no infrastructure at the border, to guarantee seamless access to the EU single market, is a reasonable approach," said the Cabinet minister.
Mr Johnson said he was returning to Westminster in a "very confident" mood following the EU27's decision to give the terms thrashed out with the European Commission the green light.
The British prime minister was boosted by the news that former Tories he sacked following their rebellion over a no-deal Brexit are considering voting for the proposals currently on the table during what is being dubbed "super Saturday".
Sir Nicholas Soames MP told Newsnight he would vote in favour of the deal and that his other 20 colleagues who had the whip removed would "by and large vote for it".
Attention has also turned to the Labour Party's own psychodrama and its troubles over the looming meaningful vote, with focus on what MPs in Leave voting seats will opt to do.
The Daily Telegraph reported that between 10 and 15 Labour MPs are prepared to back the deal to avoid a no-deal scenario.
Ronnie Campbell, MP for Blyth Valley in Northumberland, has confirmed he will back the divorce terms and Ruth Smeeth MP, who represents Stoke-on-Trent North & Kidsgrove, a constituency that voted by more than 70% to Leave, said it was her "intention" to vote for a deal as long as it did not erode rights in Britain.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon even suggested it would suit Labour for enough rebels to cross the threshold and push Mr Johnson's deal over the line.
"Hope I'm wrong but I have a real suspicion that Labour would be quite happy to see this deal go through. They will officially oppose but give nod to 'rebels' to ensure numbers there to pass," she tweeted.
Labour's John McDonnell said there would be "consequences" for MPs in his party who voted for Mr Johnson's Withdrawal Agreement, but would not say whether that included having the whip removed.
He also said he would "have a chat" with Mr Campbell in a bid to persuade him to change his mind.
The shadow Cabinet member was dismissive of suggestions a vote on a second referendum could take place on Saturday and said MPs should focus on defeating the deal.
A total of 635 votes will be in play when the deal is debated, which means the government will need at least 320 votes to be certain of a majority.
If every Tory MP who is able to vote also backs the deal, this gives the government 285 votes - well short of the number required.