Boris Johnson has insisted he is “very confident” that his Brexit deal will be approved by the House of Commons in a historic knife-edge vote on Saturday, even without the backing of the DUP.
“I want to stress that this is a great deal for our country, for the UK; I also believe that it is a very good deal for our friends in the EU,” Johnson said at the European Council in Brussels, where EU leaders signed off on the last-minute deal.
Johnson hopes to frame Saturday’s House of Commons clash as a dramatic “new deal or no deal” moment – but EU leaders declined to come to his aid in Brussels by ruling out any further delay to Brexit.
The arithmetic looks daunting for Johnson after he opted to press ahead and sign up to a deal even after the DUP issued an early morning statement saying it could not support the government’s position.
Later, when the text of a reworked withdrawal agreement was published by the European Commission, Arlene Foster’s party issued a more strident statement saying the agreement “drives a coach and horses through the professed sanctity of the Belfast agreement”.
Without the DUP’s 10 MPs, Johnson is likely to need the support of some Labour MPs and the 21 Conservatives he expelled from the parliamentary party for backing the Benn act last month.
Asked what he could offer to Labour MPs, he pointed to the “level playing field” assurances in the rewritten political declaration – the part of the deal relating to the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
But senior government officials had earlier made clear that the assurances were similar to those that would be included in any standard free trade agreement.
Meanwhile, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, underlined the fact that the Johnson deal points the way to much looser economic ties than May’s agreement.
“At the time [under May], it wasn’t clear what the future relationship should look like, whether there would be a membership in the single market or not. Now it’s very clear that Britain’s going to be a third country and we will quickly begin negotiating a free trade agreement with that third country, Great Britain,” she said.
The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, dubbed the deal a “sellout”, adding: “It’s not just the DUP – he’s sold out virtually every sector of our economy and all those who may have voted to leave believing a deal could be secured that protected their jobs.”
However, some of the so-called “Spartans” on the right-wing of the Conservative party appeared ready to abandon the DUP and support Johnson’s deal.
Andrew Bridgen told Channel 4: “This is far more palatable to me. It looks like Brexit, it smells like Brexit, that’s Brexit for me, and I’m willing to suck up quite a lot in the withdrawal agreement that I don’t like in order to get to Brexit.”
Meanwhile, MPs backing a second referendum appeared to be backing away from tabling an amendment aimed at attaching a “people’s vote” to the deal, as Jeremy Corbyn declined to say whether Labour would back it. They are expected to decide on Friday how to proceed.
EU sources said Johnson had not directly asked leaders to rule out an extension during his address to them on Thursday afternoon, but that he had “made very clear his intention was to be out by 31 October”.