May's Key Allies Sound Upbeat as Brexit Deal Heads for New Vote
(Bloomberg) -- Theresa May’s frantic efforts to get a key group of lawmakers to back her Brexit deal appeared to be making progress on Friday as her team penciled in a date to put her plan back to Parliament for a third time.
Nigel Dodds, a leading member of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, said talks with senior ministers including Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond on Friday had been "constructive."
He welcomed the government’s new efforts to address their concerns about the deal. The group objects to the so-called Irish backstop, a fallback measure in the divorce agreement that treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the U.K.
"What is new now is there is a renewed focus in government on ensuring those issues are addressed," Dodds told reporters after the meetings. “We have had good discussions today, those discussions will continue over the coming period of time. We want to get a deal."
His comments suggest there’s hope for the prime minister as she prepares to put the divorce terms to a third parliamentary vote next week -- most likely on Tuesday. While she lost the most recent ballot by 149 votes, there are signs that the pro-Brexit rebels in her party are wavering. The DUP only has 10 lawmakers, but many Conservatives who support Brexit could fall into line if the Northern Irish party is satisfied.
May "will continue to talk to her colleagues and whoever necessary in the lead-up to next week,” her spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, told reporters on Friday. “We’re having ongoing conversations including with the DUP.”
After a week of grueling parliamentary battles, May managed to keep her deal in play in the latest round of voting on Thursday night. Her plan now is to present Parliament with a choice: Back the deal and deliver Brexit with only a short delay, or risk being forced to stay in the bloc for another year.
The strategy is to convince Brexit-backers that her deal -- while not the divorce they imagined -- is better than risking a postponement that could end up diluting or reversing Brexit altogether.
Dodds said in an interview with The House magazine that any revised legal advice from Attorney General Geoffrey Cox would be key to their decision as to whether they could support the deal.
Cox’s advice that the U.K. risked being trapped indefinitely in the EU’s customs regime under the backstop helped skewer May’s deal both times it’s been voted on by the House of Commons. But Dodds said it’s also boosted his credibility.
Cox "will not gild the lily; he will not try to bluff anyone; he will not try to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes; he will be brutally honest, and we appreciate that very much,” Dodds told The House. “What he comes back with -- if he can -- on any future legal advice is going to be watched very, very carefully, given that he has an enormous amount of credibility.”
Tuesday is penciled in for the third vote on the accord. If it’s rejected, May will ask the EU for an extension and the bloc will decide at a summit on Thursday and Friday how to respond.
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