By Jamie Bryson
The Government is privately assuring the DUP that the Prime Minister’s letter is reflective of what the European Union wants, and is not the position of Her Majesty’s Government.
The DUP are also in talks with allies within the Conservative party, who are deeply opposed to the trajectory of the Government’s plans. This includes the ERG who is crucial if the Prime Minister was to get any deal over the line.
Listen to the words of Sammy Wilson this morning, he repeatedly made reference to the battle Theresa May had within her own party. This was followed up by DUP briefings that their deal was not with Theresa May, but with the Conservative party.
A senior DUP source close to the leadership has laid out a two stage approach, which will almost certainly lead to toppling the Prime Minister. The DUP are clear however that this is NOT about tearing up the confidence and supply agreement, which they believe would be strengthened by any of May’s likely successors.
Stage one they say is that any deal that includes a border down the Irish Sea, in any guise, would be rejected by Brexiteers, specifically the ERG and DUP. It is believed the 1922 committee have also signalled their unwillingness to countenance Northern Ireland being treated any differently than the rest of the United Kingdom. This, essentially, is a numbers game. The DUP and their allies privately believe they have the numbers.
If the Prime Minister recommended a deal and it was voted down, this would almost certainly signal the end of her tenure. Senior members of the 1922 committee are understood to have privately indicated that in such a circumstance, if the Prime Minister did not willingly step aside, that a leadership challenge would take place.
Stage two, described by a senior DUP source as “bringing the house to the verge of coming down” is that the DUP would withdraw their support for the Prime Minster. Crucially however they have already privately indicated to senior members of the Conservative Party- and have briefed widely today- that this would NOT mean bringing down the confidence and supply agreement. Rather the approach would be that they would not work the agreement whilst Theresa May remained as Prime Minister.
This approach the DUP believe, and have been privately assured, would lead to “the men in grey suits removing her from office to avoid a general election”.
It is understood that Downing Street officials have been communicating with senior DUP members since late last night trying to gain some wriggle room for the Prime Minister by saying that the letter reflects what the EU wants and is not the position of the Government.
It appears however, certainly from the DUP’s perspective, that the die has been cast. Some have suggested that the publication of the letter in The Times was deliberate as a means of initiating a carefully planned coup.
The Prime Minister’s only hope, it seems, of saving herself is to clearly and unambiguously sign up the DUP’s red lines in relation to Brexit. As the DUP are very much at pains to point out, they not the DUP’s red lines, but the red lines of every self-respecting unionist across the United Kingdom.