This weekend all eyes are on the DUP. As I say in The Sun this morning, if the government can satisfy them, then Theresa May has a chance of winning the vote on Tuesday because of the domino effect that them coming across will set off. But if the DUP won’t come over, there’s no point holding a third meaningful vote.
The DUP spent yesterday in intensive talks with senior government figures. I understand that these talks were broadly positive. One Cabinet Minister close to the process tells me that the chances of the DUP backing the deal are ‘a bit better than 50:50. I’d put it at 60:40.’
What is winning the DUP round is the promise of putting into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which puts the deal into UK law, a requirement that there be no divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill would be so-called superior legislation. This would mean that it would trump other bill, giving the DUP some reassurance that the next Prime Minister couldn’t just decide to cut a Brexit deal for Great Britain leaving Northern Ireland behind.
Parliament will also be given a scrutiny power over the backstop, allowing it to vote every few years on how it is operating.
At the same time, the UK government will seek to offer the DUP some reassurance about this country’s ability to get out of the backstop. I am told that if Geoffrey Cox’s legal advice had been different, then the DUP would have been on board this week. One Cabinet Minister tells me, ‘Geoffrey did cost the DUP’.
To sweeten the deal for the DUP, there’ll be money and ladles of respect. The DUP want a new ‘policy package’ to replace their confidence and supply deal with the Tories which runs out in June.
If the government can get the DUP, it is confident that Jacob Rees-Mogg will then come on board. Despite voting against the deal on Tuesday, Rees-Mogg left himself a ladder to climb down; repeatedly declaring that the only reason to vote for this deal was if Brexit was in genuine danger. After the Commons voted against no deal and for an extension, it clearly is.
The big question is how many Brexiteer rebels climb down Jacob’s ladder. Downing Street think that there are 25 to 50 Tory diehards who won’t vote for the deal even with the DUP on board.
What that precise number is, is absolutely crucial. As one senior Downing Street source explains, ‘If it is at the lower end of that scale, it can be made up with Labour. If it is at the higher end, it can’t be.’
There are, I’m told, between 20 and 30 Labour MPs prepared to back a deal but only if it has a realistic chance of passing. Influential figures in the Cabinet are urging Number 10 to make the vote on Tuesday a free vote to make it easier for Labour MPs to support it.