The DUP has said it will not support Theresa May's government if it tables a fresh meaningful Brexit vote because "the necessary changes we seek to the backstop have not been secured".
The party was reacting hours after the British prime minister said she will not remain in her post for the next phase of Brexit negotiations. She said she would step down after her withdrawal agreement is passed.
However, the DUP leader Arlene Foster has said her party “regrets” that it is unable to support the withdrawal agreement while it “poses a threat to the integrity of the UK”.
Theresa May says she will go before next stage of negotiations if Brexit deal is passed.— Denis Staunton (@denisstaunton) March 27, 2019
The DUP’s 10 MPs prop up Mrs May’s government in the House of Commons.
Ms Foster said that although Brexit was “incredibly important” to her, “it’s not the most important issue”.
“The most important issue for me, for the Democratic Unionist Party, for our 10 MPs, is the preservation of the union,” she told Sky News.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, replying to a journalist asking if they might abstain on Mrs May’s deal, said: “The DUP do not abstain on the Union.”
Many Conservative rebels and the DUP have objected to the Irish backstop, saying it risks binding Britain to the EU for years.
Mrs May’s decision came in response to calls from a number of Conservative backbenchers for her to name the date of her departure in return for their help in pushing the deal through parliament.
Mrs May spoke to the influential Tory 1922 committee shortly before MPs were due to take part in “indicative votes” on a range of Brexit options in the House of Commons. All of the votes were defeated.
Mrs May said she “will not stand in the way” of the party having new leadership, telling the committee: “I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who heads the ERG group of pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers, said he would reluctantly vote for Mrs May’s agreement if the DUP backed it or abstained.
But a spokesman said after a meeting of the group that “there is no way enough votes are coming out of that room to put the (Withdrawal Agreement) through”.
To succeed, Mrs May needs at least 75 MPs to come over to her side.
Boris Johnson, who once likened the deal to a "suicide vest" wrapped around the British constitution, appears poised to do a U-turn.
The former foreign secretary claimed in September 2018 that: “We have opened ourselves to perpetual political blackmail. We have wrapped a suicide vest around the British constitution — and handed the detonator to Michel Barnier.”
As recently as Monday, in his Daily Telegraph column, Mr Johnson said Mrs May should “come out of the EU now — without the backstop”. “It is time for the PM to channel the spirit of Moses in Exodus, and say to Pharaoh in Brussels — let my people go,” he said.
Downing Street later released extracts from what Mrs May said to the 1922 committee: “This has been a testing time for our country and our party. We’re nearly there. We’re almost ready to start a new chapter and build that brighter future.
“But before we can do that, we have to finish the job in hand. As I say, I don’t tour the bars and engage in the gossip – but I do make time to speak to colleagues, and I have a great team in the whips’ office. I also have two excellent PPSs.
“And I have heard very clearly the mood of the parliamentary party. I know there is a desire for a new approach – and new leadership – in the second phase of the Brexit negotiations – and I won’t stand in the way of that.
“I know some people are worried that if you vote for the withdrawal agreement, I will take that as a mandate to rush on into phase two without the debate we need to have. I won’t – I hear what you are saying.
“But we need to get the deal through and deliver Brexit ...
“I am prepared to leave this job earlier than I intended in order to do what is right for our country and our party.
“I ask everyone in this room to back the deal so we can complete our historic duty – to deliver on the decision of the British people and leave the European Union with a smooth and orderly exit.”
In response, the DUP said in a statement: "The DUP and the Government have had good discussions in recent days and some progress on domestic legislation has been made. All concerned recognise the need to ensure that as we leave the European Union the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom is maintained.
“However, given the fact that the necessary changes we seek to the backstop have not been secured between the Government and the European Union, and the remaining and ongoing strategic risk that Northern Ireland would be trapped in backstop arrangements at the end of the implementation period, we will not be supporting the Government if they table a fresh meaningful vote.
“The backstop if operational has the potential to create an internal trade border within the United Kingdom and would cut us off from our main internal market, being Great Britain.
“We want to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from, and our future relationship with, the European Union on terms that accord with our key objectives to ensure the integrity of the United Kingdom.
“In our view the current withdrawal agreement does not do so and the backstop, which we warned this Government against from its first inception, poses an unacceptable threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom and will inevitably limit the United Kingdom’s ability to negotiate on the type of future relationship with the EU.”
Earlier, Mrs May moved to prevent possible ministerial resignations by allowing Conservative MPs a free vote on the indicative votes.
The options tabled for debate by MPs included remaining in the EU single market and customs union, putting Brexit to a second referendum, and cancelling it by revoking article 50.
Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow warned the British government that it could not bring forward any Brexit deal to parliament for a vote, unless it was substantially different to previous deals considered.
Mr Bercow said he understood that the government was considering bringing its twice-defeated deal back to parliament for a vote on Thursday or Friday.
Wednesday’s events follow Monday’s vote to allow MPs to take control of the parliamentary timetable in an attempt to break the deadlock over Brexit by seeking a cross-party solution.
MPs voted on options selected by Mr Bercow in “indicative votes”. All were defeated in votes.
Results of indicative votes on Brexit alternatives
MPs vote against all eight options considered under the indicative votes process. This is what Oliver Letwin, the MP who championed this process, said he expected to happen in his Today interview this morning.
B - John Baron’s - No deal
Backed by Conservative MPs John Baron, David Amess, Martin Vickers and Stephen Metcalfe, the motion proposes leaving the European Union without a deal on April 12th
D - Nick Boles’s - common market 2.0
Tabled by Conservatives Nick Boles, Robert Halfon and Andrew Percy and Labour’s Stephen Kinnock, Lucy Powell and Diana Johnson. The motion proposes UK membership of the European free trade association and European Economic Area. It allows continued participation in the single market and a “comprehensive customs arrangement” with the EU after Brexit, which would remain in place until the agreement of a wider trade deal which guarantees frictionless movement of goods and an open border in Ireland.
H - George Eustice’s - Efta and EEA
A motion tabled by Conservative MP George Eustice – who quit as agriculture minister this month to fight for Brexit – proposes remaining within the EEA and rejoining Efta, but remaining outside a customs union with the EU. The motion was also signed by Conservative MPs including former minister Nicky Morgan and head of the Brexit Delivery Group Simon Hart.
J - Ken Clarke’s - Customs union
Requires a commitment to negotiate a "permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU" in any Brexit deal. Tabled by veteran Conservative Europhile Ken Clarke, backed by Labour's Yvette Cooper, Helen Goodman and chair of the Commons Brexit committee Hilary Benn and Tory former ministers Sir Oliver Letwin and Sarah Newton.
K - Labour’s - Customs union and alignment with single market
Labour has tabled a motion proposing its plan for a close economic relationship with the EU. The plan includes a comprehensive customs union with a UK say on future trade deals; close alignment with the single market; matching new EU rights and protections; participation in EU agencies and funding programmes; and agreement on future security arrangements, including access to the European arrest warrant
L - Joanna Cherry’s - Revocation to avoid no deal
Under this plan, if the government has not passed its withdrawal agreement, it would have to stage a vote on a no-deal Brexit two sitting days before the scheduled date of departure. If MPs refuse to authorise no-deal, the prime minister would be required to halt Brexit by revoking article 50. The motion, tabled by the SNP's Joanna Cherry, has been signed by 33 MPs including the Conservative former attorney general Dominic Grieve, the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Vince Cable, Labour's Ben Bradshaw and all 11 members of the Independent Group.
M - Dame Margaret Beckett’s - Confirmatory public vote
Drawn up by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson and tabled by former foreign secretary Dame Margaret Beckett with the backing of scores of MPs across the House, this motion would require a public vote to confirm any Brexit deal passed by parliament before its ratification.
O - Marcus Fysh’s - Contingent preferential arrangements
A group of Conservative MPs, including Marcus Fysh, Steve Baker and Priti Patel, have signed a motion that calls for the government to seek to agree preferential trade arrangements with the EU, in case the UK is unable to implement a withdrawal agreement with the bloc.