Have the DUP agreed to support May’s Brexit deal?

Political pressure in Ireland could swing the party’s ten MPs behind prime minister

Theresa May and Arlene Foster
Theresa May and Arlene Foster outside No. 10 last year
(Image credit: Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Theresa May’s hopes of salvaging her Brexit plan have been boosted amid reports that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) may support the deal if the controversial Irish border backstop is time limited.

In a surprise U-turn, the Northern Irish “appear to be rallying behind amendments that would water down the backstop - effectively dropping opposition to the wider deal”, reports the Daily Mail.

The DUP’s public support for the prime minister’s deal is seen as crucial, “after dozens of rebel Tory MPs pledged to vote in solidarity with their unionist cause”, adds The Sun.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Revealing the significant shift towards the PM, a senior member of the DUP told the newspaper that the party is now willing to accept a “specifically time-limited” backstop.

“If she fails on Tuesday, Parliament will take over and we lose any semblance of a decent Brexit. We have to help her now, so we’ll vote with the Government if they agree the right amendment. That’s looking like a short-time limit to the backstop at the moment,” the unnamed source said.

However, it remains unclear whether the EU would be willing to accept such a limit, while The Spectator’s James Forsyth notes that “it is very hard to imagine [Irish President] Leo Varadkar going along with it”.

The DUP’s ten MPs are “under spiralling pressure from grass-roots members and their Stormont politicians to agree to a deal to hold off growing Republican calls for a reunification referendum under a no-deal Brexit”, The Sun reports.

By maintaining a hardline stance on May’s plan, the DUP “has succeeded in alienating all shades of reasonable political opinion in the south and also in the north [of Ireland]”, says the Belfast Telegraph’s Alban Maginness.

“This in turn will create a growing body of nationalist opinion that will become not just vaguely sympathetic to the idea of a border poll, but actively in favour of campaigning and agitating for such a referendum,” Maginness continues.

The party’s alleged change of heart comes as Whitehall sources confirmed this week that DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy, Nigel Dodds, attended a dinner with the PM at Chequers last Friday, along with their spouses.

May’s reliance on the DUP’s electoral support in the Commons was highlighted by her narrow victory in last week’s confidence vote.

Speaking immediately after that result, Dodds reminded May that his party’s MPs had been critical in saving her government, emphasising the importance of their “supply and confidence” arrangement with the Conservatives.

But it appears the cost of that arrangement may be set to soar, with the two-year, £1bn pact between the parties up for renegotiation this summer.

The DUP are sure to “demand a higher price” for their continued support, according to the New Statesman’s Kevin Maguire, who reports that an insider source was claiming “their opening gambit will be up to £8bn”.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.