THE CHANCELLOR has been called into Brexit talks with the DUP – sparking speculation of a new cash package for Northern Ireland.
Sources revealed Philip Hammond was asked by No.10 late last night to come to a new Downing Street summit today with the Ulster Unionists.
It came as arch Tory Brexiteer Esther McVey separately said she was now thinking of the backing the PM’s agreement when it comes back to the Commons.
The Chancellor met the DUP with David Lidington, the de-facto deputy PM and chief whip Julian Smith – for “ongoing and significant discussions”.
Under the terms of their original confidence and supply agreement with Theresa May, the DUP secured an extra £1 billion in spending over 2018 and 2019. The spending runs out this June.
So far the DUP has been resolutely opposed to the PM’s Brexit deal with the EU.
But insiders believe the party was very close to backing it this week –before the Attorney General’s bombshell legal advice.
Sources claim the DUP is now pushing for extra reassurance around the Irish backstop and for a legal guarantee that the PM will never put a ‘virtual’ border down the Irish Sea to escape EU customs ties after Brexit.
But the party led by Arlene Foster is also coming under intense pressure from businesses and farmers in the province to come to an arrangement with the Government and back the PM’s deal.
Sources claim business figures in Northern Ireland were alarmed by the Government’s No Deal tariff schedule – published on Wednesday.
Bill Wolsey, a Belfast investor who employs workers in hotels, pubs and restaurants, told The Financial Times business was united in demanding the DUP accept the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement.
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He said: “The DUP always put themselves forward as the party of business. At the moment, there’s a separation – a canyon – between what their thinking is and what the business community is thinking.”
Steve Aiken, a Stormont assembly member with the rival Ulster Unionist party and a former chief of the British-Irish chamber of Commerce, said: “All the companies who front up at the [DUP’s fundraising] dinners have all gone remarkably quiet.”
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