Ministers expect a nine-month Brexit delay

Nigel Dodds of the DUP has not yet agreed a deal with Theresa May to bring his troop of 10 MPs - and some of their Tory ERG Brexiter allies - into her camp for that momentous and precedent-smashing third "meaningful vote" on her Brexit deal.

This means as of now the third "meaningful vote" remains the stuff of myth and legend; as I said on Saturday, it may not happen at all, or at least not before the European Union council on Thursday.

Where would that lead us?

A minister close to the PM tells me the cabinet expects the EU to grant the UK a Brexit delay of nine months - which would of course require the UK to participate in May's elections to the European Parliament.

But here is the important point about this delay that this minister was desperate for me to know: "The nine months would be a maximum; if we ratified the Withdrawal Agreement at any point before the end of nine months, we could leave the EU much sooner".

You cannot imagine how my heart leapt as these assurances. Because what he was dangling in front of me was an almost unlimited number of meaningful votes to secure Brexit.

If this is how it all turns out, the "meaningful vote" that may count for most will be the one after the EU council and before what is still the official Brexit day of March 29 - that is a meaningful vote on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Nigel Dodds of the DUP has not yet agreed a deal with Theresa May to bring his troop of 10 MPs. Credit: PA

How so?

Well at that point the DUP would have maximum leverage to secure not just the notorious Stormont Lock - or pledge from the government any new regulations forced on Northern Ireland while the backstop prevails would also be imposed on Great Britain (see what I wrote yesterday) - but also presumably untold squillions for pet projects in the province.

If in those circumstances May's deal was finally ratified, this would be pork barrel politics of epic proportions, the government's DUP tail wagging an entire nation into a Brexit destiny that even its little troop has always held in contempt.