The Westminster government has stepped up negotiations with the DUP in a bid to get its Brexit deal through parliament next week, bringing the Chancellor into talks ahead of a third vote expected on Tuesday.
Philip Hammond’s meeting with senior DUP figures raised speculation that more investment could be targeted at Northern Ireland, in addition to the £1 billion agreed when a confidence and supply agreement was signed in 2017.
Following meetings with several Cabinet ministers, the DUP’s Westminster leader said talks had been “constructive” and would continue through the weekend.
Asked if extra money for Northern Ireland had been discussed with Mr Hammond, Nigel Dodds said: “The Chancellor of the Exchequer is obviously a key member of the government, but he is also responsible for HMRC and the whole issue of their involvement in customs and other regulatory issues is a key concern for us.”
Other ministers involved in the talks included David Lidington, Michael Gove and Julian Smith, he said.
Mr Dodds said: “We are not discussing cash in these discussions.”
There was a boost for Mrs May as former Cabinet minister Esther McVey suggested Brexiteers could back the deal to avoid a long delay to Brexit that could see the agreement softened. Speaking to the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, Ms McVey said: “The element now is that people will have to take a bad deal rather than no deal.”
She added: “They’ll know it’s a rubbish a deal. They didn’t believe and neither would I have believed – having got warm words from people in authority ‘we will do this’, and remember the 100-plus times ‘we will be out on 29 March’ - absolutely not.
“Remember those words ‘we will not be part of the customs union, the single market’, all of those red lines.
“Would you have believed they would have been broken, not adhered to and then run the clock down and not go back with a negotiating hand to change it?”
Following a vote by MPs to allow an extension to Article 50, the European Council president Donald Tusk met Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in The Hague on Friday, ahead of talks with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron on Monday.
Mr Rutte said the current Withdrawal Agreement is the “only deal on the table”. Mr Tusk repeated his offer of a long extension “if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it”.
But European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt questioned why the leaders of the 27 should grant an extension if Mrs May was “not ready for a cross-party approach to break the current deadlock” in the Commons.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn and the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford have exchanged letters seeking a meeting to work together on an alternative Brexit plan.