The Democratic Unionist Party has denied “cash for votes” suggestions after the chancellor was sent into talks designed to win its support for the Brexit deal.

“We are not discussing cash in these discussions,” Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader, insisted – amid government pressure on the party to switch sides in next week’s repeat “meaningful vote”.

Instead, Mr Dodds said Theresa May must do more to convince the party that the deal would not breach its “red line” that Northern Ireland must not be treated differently from the rest of the UK.

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Philip Hammond’s surprise appearance at the talks raised eyebrows because the £1.5bn arrangement for the DUP to prop up the Tories in power expires in June and would have to be renewed.

But Mr 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.”

“From day one, our focus has been on the red line of how Northern Ireland is treated separately from the rest of the UK. That is the issue that has been the priority concern for us,” he continued

Three other cabinet ministers attended the talks – underlining the government’s belief that a DUP switch is the likely route to overturning this week’s crushing defeat.

Dozens of anti-deal Tories, plus some Labour MPs, are expected to swing behind the agreement if the Northern Ireland party abandons its opposition over the Irish border backstop.

The talks came as the government paved the way for another crucial vote to change the Brexit departure day – if and when an Article 50 extension is agreed at next week’s EU summit.

A written statement confirmed no act of parliament is required, just a positive vote in both the Commons and Lords, so domestic law matches the agreement reached in Brussels.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn was asked to join cross-party talks by the leaders of the SNP, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, to push for a second referendum.

Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, said: “I hope Jeremy Corbyn will now join us – after two years of declining invitations to talk.”

Emerging in Whitehall, Mr Dodds also denied discussing the latest legal advice on escape routes from the backstop, after lawyers for the European Research Group of hardline Tories rejected them.

Instead, the focus is on strengthening the so-called “Stormont Lock”, under which Belfast could block any new regulatory barriers in the Irish Sea.

Mr Dodd said the backstop raised the danger “of leaving Northern Ireland behind in single market regulations and the customs union if the rest of the UK went its own way in the future”.

“We want to get a deal – we have always been in that frame of mind – but a lot will depend on what the government is able to do in providing the guarantees that are necessary,” he stressed.


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