Fresh Brexit blow for Theresa May as DUP signals it will reject her deal again
Theresa May's hopes of getting her Brexit deal through the House of Commons at a third attempt have been dealt a major blow after the DUP accused the Prime Minister of being "far too willing to capitulate" to the European Union.
In a scathing attack, the unionist party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds accused Mrs May of a "disappointing and inexcusable" failure to stand up to EU leaders.
The comments - which come after Mrs May was forced to ask EU leaders for a Brexit delay - are highly significant because the Prime Minister relies on the DUP for her Commons majority.
A sizable chunk of Conservative Brexiteers would also be willing to switch to backing her twice-rejected agreement in the Commons if the DUP jumped on board.
But Mr Dodds said: "The Prime Minister missed an opportunity at the EU Council to put forward proposals which could have improved the prospects of an acceptable Withdrawal Agreement and help unite the country.
"That failure is all the more disappointing and inexcusable given the clear divisions and arguments which became evident amongst EU member states when faced with outcomes they don’t like.
"As we have always said, negotiations with the EU inevitably go down to the wire and the Government has been far too willing to capitulate before securing the necessary changes which would get an agreement through the House of Commons."
Continuing the furious broadside, Mr Dodds - who has already struck a hardline stance in recent days in an interview with The House magazine - said the Government had "consistently settled for inferior compromises when they didn’t need to".
And he insisted Mrs May should have continued to negotiate with the EU to press for changes to the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.
The DUP has repeatedly made clear its objections to the backstop, which would seek to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping the UK tied to key EU customs and single market rules if no alternative plan can be drawn up.
The party fears that the backstop would leave Northern Ireland operating under a different regulatory regime to the rest of the UK.
Mr Dodds also used his statement on Friday to lambast Mrs May over a speech on Wednesday in which she sought to pin the blame for a Brexit delay on MPs.
"Lectures by the Prime Minister putting the blame on others cannot disguise the responsibility her government bears for the current debacle and the fact that her agreement has been twice overwhelmingly rejected in Parliament," the DUP's deputy leader said.
"The Prime Minister has now agreed with the EU to kick the can down the road for another two weeks and humiliatingly revoke her oft-stated pledge that the UK would leave the EU on 29th March.
"Nothing has changed as far as the Withdrawal Agreement is concerned. Nothing fundamentally turns on the formal ratification of documents which the Attorney General has already said do not change the risk of the U.K. being trapped in the backstop.
"The DUP has been very clear throughout that we want a deal which delivers on the referendum result and which works for all parts of the U.K. and for the EU as well.
"But it must be a deal that protects the Union. That remains our abiding principle. We will not accept any deal which poses a long term risk to the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom."
The row came as Cabinet minister Greg Clark confirmed that MPs will be given a vote on a string of Brexit alternatives if they reject Theresa May's deal for a third time - a move that has already caused fury among some Conservative Brexiteers.