The DUP has offered would-be Tory rebels a free hit on Theresa May’s Brexit deal by confirming its MPs will only back a no-confidence motion if the PM’s withdrawal plan is voted through.
Jacob Rees-Mogg revealed the position at a gathering of the influential Tory faction the European Research Group (ERG) on Wednesday night, where government chief whip Julian Smith made a last-ditch bid to win Brexiteers’ support.
Should May face a confidence vote, which Labour could table if her Brexit deal is defeated, a general election would loom large, and the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government is thought to be keeping wavering Tories in line.
The DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds met with Rees-Mogg and arch-Brexiteer Tory MP Steve Baker this week, however, to confirm they won’t rock the boat if the deal fails, in a sign the two groups are united on their Brexit strategy.
MPs at the meeting, which included former ministers Esther McVey and Priti Patel, were told by Rees-Mogg: “The DUP will support a confidence motion if the withdrawal agreement is voted down.
“But the risk of losing them and having an election is if the withdrawal agreement goes through.”
It comes as rumours swirl round Westminster that the beleaguered PM faces defeat at the meaningful vote on Tuesday by numbers stretching into three figures.
Labour’s Keir Starmer has said it is “inevitable” that the opposition will table a confidence vote and demand May call a general election should her Brexit deal fall.
Should the PM lose, however, parliamentary procedure says she has 21 days to table an alternative plan.
At the ERG meeting, Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, could be heard telling the chief whip that the last few weeks “have been a mirror image” of the Maastricht rebellion, when a febrile atmosphere in the Conservative Party saw eurosceptic backbenchers turn against John Major.
He also warned Smith that the leader “didn’t own” the Conservative Party and that she had to work with her critics.
Reports had emerged earlier in the day that May is weighing up a “parliamentary lock” on the unpopular customs backstop which is aimed at avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.
A source close to the whips office later said that the prime minister is “in listening mode” but no “policy positions were discussed” at the meeting. They added: “We are looking at all options to secure the vote.”
A Tory MP who was at the meeting appeared to shoot down claims the lock would convince any Brexiteer.
They told HuffPost UK that the display from the whips was “like groundhog day”, adding that “no motions or assurances change the law”.