British PM Theresa May's Brexit deal lives: Northern Irish kingmakers report 'good' talks with government

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds speaks to the media outside the Cabinet Office in London.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds speaks to the media outside the Cabinet Office in London.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - The Northern Irish party that props up Prime Minister Theresa May's government said it had good talks with British ministers on Friday (March 15) to see what additional assurances would be needed for them to save her twice-defeated Brexit deal.

The United Kingdom's divorce from the European Union has sown chaos throughout May's premiership and the Brexit finale is still uncertain. Options include a long delay, exiting with May's deal, leaving without a deal or even another referendum.

May has given Brexit supporters an ultimatum - ratify her deal by Wednesday or face a delay to Brexit way beyond June 30 that would open up the possibility that the entire departure from the EU could ultimately be thwarted.

To succeed, May must win over dozens of Brexit-supporting rebels in her own Conservative Party and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has 10 lawmakers in parliament.

For the DUP, which could pull in some Brexit-supporting Conservative lawmakers behind a deal, the main issue is the Irish backstop - an insurance policy which sets out what happens to the Irish border if the sides fail to find another solution.

"We have had good discussions today. Those discussions will continue," DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said after talks with British ministers.

"We want to get a deal. We have always been in that frame of mind. We don't want to leave without a deal but a lot will depend in terms of what the government can do on providing those guarantees that are necessary."


In a last ditch attempt to save her deal, May is scrambling to win over the DUP and dozens of rebels in her own party.

Finance Minister Philip Hammond was in the meeting with the DUP, news that at one point pushed the pound to its highest level of the day against the dollar.

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 on Tuesday.

Many Brexiteers and the DUP fear the backstop, aimed at avoiding controls on the border between the UK province of Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland, will trap the United Kingdom in the EU's orbit indefinitely.

May's 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.