In a dramatic development in the effort to break the parliamentary deadlock, one of the Prime Minister’s fiercest Tory critics indicated that many of her Eurosceptic colleagues could vote for the Withdrawal Agreement in a third Commons “meaningful vote” expected on Tuesday. Former minister Esther McVey, who quit the Cabinet to vote against the deal in earlier divisions, conceded that Brexiteers were ready to “think again” because of fears that the UK’s departure from the bloc could be cancelled following Parliament’s vote for a Brexit delay until at least the end of June. She spoke out as senior ministers intensified talks with Mrs May’s parliamentary allies in the Democratic Unionist Party in an effort to win their backing for her deal.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds described the talks as “good” and “constructive” last night.
“We have had good discussion. Those discussions will continue over the coming period of time,” he said.
Ms McVey hinted that she and other Tory Eurosceptics might be ready to switch sides in a third Commons “meaningful vote” expected next Tuesday in an interview with BBC Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson’s “Political Thinking” podcast.
She said Brexiteer Tories regarded the Withdrawal Agreement as a “rubbish deal” but accepted this week’s move to delay Brexit put the country’s departure from the EU in jeopardy.
“People are going to have to think a different way next week,” she said.
Asked if she and other Tory Brexiteers were ready to “hold their noses and vote for Theresa May’s deal”, she said: “Yes. I don’t know what the number is, but they will have to do that if they therefore now want Brexit.”
Mrs McVey also warned that the Prime Minister should expect to resign after delivering Brexit.
“She took on a very difficult role. She had a very difficult pack of cards. The lady has to leave in a dignified manner,” the former work and pensions secretary said.
Tory Eurosceptic and Democratic Unionist Party MPs are ready drop their opposition
Former minister Esther McVey conceded that Brexiteers were ready to “think again”
“We have got to thank her for everything she has done. It has been a thankless task and she has worked 24/7. So she has done the most dutiful and hard of jobs and we can never take that away from her.
“Even if I don’t like how she’s done Brexit, I will never take away what she’s done.”
Mrs May spent yesterday in her Maidenhead constituency recovering from the throat infection that left her voice croaky this week.
She is expected to step up her charm offensive to win over Tory and DUP MPs still resisting her deal in the coming days.
Eurosceptic colleagues could vote for the Withdrawal Agreement in a third Commons “meaningful vote”
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “She has been working tirelessly to make a deal and she will continue to do that.”
Her allies are understood to see winning the backing of the DUP’s 10 MPs as the key to breaking the parliamentary deadlock.
Chancellor Philip Hammond met DUP MPs in a sign that the Government may be ready to offer billions of pounds of extra taxpayer funding for Northern Ireland to try to secure their support for the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Hammond was joined by Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Chief Whip Julian Smith in the talks.
Chancellor Philip Hammond with DUP leader Arlene Foster
The Chancellor’s presence sparked speculation at Westminster that more cash could be on the table as their parliamentary alliance with the Tories is due to expire in June.
But Mr Dodds insisted: “We are not discussing cash in these discussion.”
In a separate interview with Parliament’s The House magazine, Mr Dodds said: “Our message is that we have set out very clear objectives, we haven’t changed in those objectives and we won’t be changing them because of any kind of deadline. The Government is well aware of that.
“So, what is our primary objective? Our primary objective is to ensure that there is – and we’ve said it before, it’s our one red line – that Northern Ireland is not separated off and treated differently in fundamental areas like customs and the single market with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington accompanied Chancellor Philip Hammond to meet DUP MPs
“We have never wavered in that and we will not waver in that red line.“That issue of the United Kingdom’s constitutional integrity is of such importance to us that it remains sacrosanct and above everything else. We have been talking to the Government about that and we await to see what happens.”
Attorney General Geoffrey Cox was continuing to work on legal advice about the so-called “backstop” border clause in the Withdrawal Agreement.
Mr Dodds said the DUP was willing to listen to any fresh advice from the Attorney General that might might allay their fears about Northern Ireland’s future.
“The Government has to still get this meaningful vote over the line. If it wasn’t aware before it now is aware that the only way it can do that is by dealing with this backstop issue.
General Geoffrey Cox continued to work on legal advice about the so-called “backstop”
“Geoffrey Cox did his very best; he’s been very honest, open and courageous in my view. He has acted with the utmost integrity, much to the annoyance of some Cabinet ministers.
“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,” Mr Dodds said.
Mrs May was given one cause for concern yesterday when her EU Exit Secretary openly insisted that leaving the bloc without a deal was preferable to a long Brexit delay.
During a visit to his North East Cambridgeshire constituency, Stephen Barclay said: “I support Brexit, this constituency voted in very large numbers for Brexit. We need a deal, we need to get that over the line. But if we don’t have a deal we should leave with no deal. That’s always been my position and I voted as the constituency would expect.”
The Cabinet minister added: “If we can get the deal through as I hope we still will we will now need a short technical extension, but if not we shouldn’t be afraid to leave with no deal.”