May tries to woo the DUP as meaningful vote debate restarts

Theresa May is attempting to stage a Brexit fightback after an embarrassing Commons defeat by unveiling a series of pledges on Northern Ireland in a bid to win over the Democratic Unionist Party.

After 20 Tories rebelled and the Government was defeated by MPs battling to block a no-deal Brexit, the debate on the Prime Minister’s deal – dramatically postponed last month – resumes in the Commons.

Facing a crushing defeat at the end of a five-day debate in December, Mrs May announced she would return to Brussels to seeks concessions on the Irish border and the so-called Northern Ireland “backstop”.

Before the debate begins again, the government is attempting to counter the bitter opposition to the deal from the DUP by publishing a series of pledges and commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.

Ministers will hope that if they can bring the DUP onside, many pro-Brexit Tory rebels will also fall into line as the Prime Minister and her allies struggle to try to win the crucial Commons vote next week.

The Northern Ireland pledges are being unveiled by the Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, who will wind up the first day of the five-day debate after it is opened by the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.

Instead of opening the debate, as she did in December before it was halted after three days, the Prime Minister will wind up the debate before the big vote takes place at 7pm next Tuesday.

© Getty The DUP’s Nigel Dodds has already rejected Theresa May’s deal

In a seven-point series of promises and assurances to the DUP and Tory rebels, Mr Lidington will say:

:: We recognise there are ongoing concerns about the backstop and what it would mean for Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the UK.

:: That is why we remain in discussions with the EU about further assurances to address those concerns.

:: It is also why we have been looking at commitments we can make unilaterally to underline Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom.

:: We recognise that these alone do not address all of parliament’s concerns.

:: But it is right we look to do what we can as a government to safeguard the interests of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland, and respond to some of the concerns that have been raised.

:: So we will publish a paper that will outline some strong commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.

:: This includes a Stormont lock on new areas of law, providing a legal guarantee that no new areas of law can apply to Northern Ireland under the backstop over the heads of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

After a No. 10 drinks party for Conservative MPs and partners on Monday, the PM is hosting another one at the end of day one of the debate, in an attempt to win over Tory rebels.

But Brexiteers claim the Downing Street charm offensive is not working and that opposition to her deal has hardened since Christmas.

After the abuse and intimidation suffered by the Tory Remainer Anna Soubry on Monday and complaints by MPs to Scotland Yard, the police presence outside Parliament has now been stepped up.

But the real test for the police – as well as the Prime Minister – will come today when the Brexit debate gets underway once again.


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