LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of getting a Brexit divorce deal through parliament were given a boost on Saturday after a report that the Northern Irish party propping up her government might move towards backing her deal.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has 10 lawmakers in parliament, is close to changing its position for the first time after receiving a promise that the government would put into law a requirement that there be no divergence between Northern Ireland and Britain, the Spectator magazine said.
A cabinet minister involved in the talks with the DUP told the Spectator the chances of the party backing the government’s deal were around 60 percent.
After two-and-a-half years of tortuous divorce negotiations with the EU, the final outcome is still uncertain with options including a long delay, exiting with May’s deal, a disorderly exit without a deal or even another referendum.
To get her deal passed through parliament, May must win over dozens of Brexit-supporting rebels in her own Conservative Party and the DUP lawmakers. She is expected bring back the deal for a third vote after two historic defeats.
The DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the party had good talks with British ministers, including the finance minister, on Friday to see what additional assurances would be needed for them to save her deal.
But the opposition Labour Party’s finance policy chief John McDonnell said on Saturday he was concerned that Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond’s presence during the talks means the government might have offered the DUP money to back the deal.
“It will rightfully be seen by the British electorate as corrupt politics and will demean our political system in the eyes of the world,” McDonnell said.
As talks with the government continued, the DUP said there were still issues to addressed and denied that they were seeking money from the government.
The changes would address the DUP’s concerns over the backstop - an insurance policy aimed at avoiding controls on the sensitive border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The backstop is the most contentious part of the divorce deal the government has agreed with the EU.
After three dramatic days in parliament this week, lawmakers voted on Thursday to have the government ask the EU for a delay beyond the date Britain is scheduled to leave - March 29.
May says she wants to minimise any delay in leaving the EU to just three months, but to achieve that she will need parliament to back her deal at the third time of asking early next week, possibly Tuesday.
Her deal, an attempt to keep close relations with the EU while leaving the bloc’s formal structures, was defeated by 230 votes in parliament on Jan. 15 and by 149 votes on March 12.
She needs 75 lawmakers to change their vote. If she can swing the DUP behind her, along with several dozen hardliners in her own party, she will be getting close to the numbers she needs.
Around 20 Conservatives lawmakers are unlikely ever to be satisfied but she may draw in a small number of opposition Labour lawmakers.
In another sign of how Brexit continues to reshape loyalties in Britain’s politics, a senior Conservative lawmaker quit his local party on Saturday due to disagreements over Brexit.
Nick Boles, 53, has been critical of the government’s threat to leave the EU without a deal and has faced calls from his local party to be ousted as its candidate for the next general election.
Boles said he could remain aligned with the Conservatives in parliament if it is offered “on acceptable terms.”
At the other end of the political spectrum, Nigel Farage, the politician who probably did more than anyone else to force Britain’s referendum on membership of the European Union, joined protesters at the start of a 270-mile march over what they call a betrayal of the Brexit vote.
In the pouring rain in Sunderland, northeast England, which was the first place in Britain to declare a vote to leave the EU, Farage, wearing a flat cap and carrying an umbrella, said Brexit was now in danger of being scuttled by the establishment.
“We are here in the very week when parliament is doing its utmost to betray the Brexit result,” Farage said. “It is beginning to look like it doesn’t want to leave and the message from this march is if you think you can walk all over us we will march straight back to you.”
The march, which began with about 100 people, is due to end at parliament on March 29, the day the United Kingdom was supposed to leave the EU.
Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Clelia Oziel