Hammond holds talks with DUP in bid to win backing for Brexit plan

Senior ministers including chancellor Philip Hammond are holding talks on Friday with a DUP delegation amid expectations that the British government will offer extra spending for Northern Ireland to swing Ulster MPs behind its Brexit deal.

The discussions come before a third “meaningful vote” on Theresa May’s Brexit pact next week — probably on Tuesday — to try to win backing for her withdrawal agreement with Brussels.

The deal has already been heavily defeated twice in the House of Commons after major rebellions by Eurosceptic Tory MPs and the DUP’s 10 MPs.

But Downing Street believes that if it can persuade the DUP leadership to back its deal then that would convince rebel Conservative backbenchers to finally fall into line next week.

Ministers held talks with the DUP on Thursday and more talks were set to take place on Friday involving senior Tory figures including Julian Smith, the chief whip.

The participation of Mr Hammond in the conversations will prompt speculation that the government is cooking up a more generous financial offer to the DUP to continue its “confidence and supply” agreement.

The original agreement to prop up Mrs May’s minority administration provided an extra £1bn of spending on infrastructure in the province over two years.

Now the chancellor is expected to face demands for a more generous package for later in this Parliament. In theory that could see the DUP fall behind the withdrawal agreement next week.

Other participants in the talks have included Gavin Williamson, defence secretary, who as chief whip in 2017 helped forge the original confidence and supply pact.

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