Boris Johnson sought to shore up support for his Brexit ambitions by welcoming the DUP to Downing Street, amid Labour claims that a general election “is coming”.
DUP leader Arlene Foster and her deputy Nigel Dodds, who leads the party in Westminster, spent more than an hour inside 10 Downing Street and insisted they had enjoyed a “very good” meeting.
Mrs Foster added the Prime Minister demonstrated his “commitment to securing a deal which works for the entire United Kingdom” as well as the Republic of Ireland, including rejecting the idea of a Northern Ireland-only backstop – which would have created a special economic zone for the country.
The Conservatives have enjoyed the support of the DUP’s 10 MPs on many key issues since June 2017, although Theresa May was unable to convince them to vote for her Brexit deal.
The meeting came after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stepped up his campaigning for an election he is yet to vote for.
Mr Corbyn threatened to “unleash the biggest people-powered campaign we’ve ever seen” when addressing union members at the TUC Congress in Brighton on Tuesday.
He accused the PM of “running away from scrutiny” on the first day of Parliament’s contentious shutdown as the Brexit clock ticks down.
But Mr Johnson later dismissed as a “load of nonsense” accusations that suspending Parliament is “anti-democratic”, insisting it was necessary to prorogue before the Queen’s Speech.
“Anybody who says it’s all, this stuff about it being anti-democratic, I mean donnez-moi un break – what a load of nonsense,” the Prime Minister said on a visit to a primary school in London.
“We were very, very clear that if people wanted a democratic moment, if they wanted an election, we offered it to the Labour opposition and mysteriously they decided not to go for it.”
Mr Corbyn’s speech came after Labour led the way to inflict yet another defeat on the Prime Minister by blocking his second call for a general election in the Commons.
Opposition leaders have not supported the votes, which needed the backing of two-thirds of MPs, because they fear an election could be used to force through a no-deal Brexit.
Mr Corbyn told union members: “No-one can trust the word of a Prime Minister who is threatening to break the law to force through no-deal.
“So a general election is coming. But we won’t allow Johnson to dictate the terms.
“And I can tell you this: We’re ready for that election. We’re ready to unleash the biggest people-powered campaign we’ve ever seen.”
Mr Corbyn recommitted to a second referendum on Brexit, which he said would include a “credible option to Leave” as well as Remain.
He also accused the PM of cosying up to US President Donald Trump to get a “one-sided” trade deal with the US which would damage employment rights, the NHS and UK industry.
“A no-deal Brexit is really a Trump-deal Brexit,” he said.
He accused Mr Johnson of “hijacking the referendum result to shift even more power and wealth to those at the top”, as he painted the Tory leader and his Cabinet as “the establishment”.
Mr Corbyn also launched a series of policies on employment rights, vowing to put power “in the hands of workers”.
The PM had already kicked off his unofficial election campaign with a visit to Yorkshire on Thursday, during which he re-announced his police recruitment drive.
But a general election is extremely unlikely until at least mid-November because of Mr Johnson’s suspension of Parliament.
Shortly before the Commons rose for five weeks – meaning MPs return with just 17 days to the Brexit deadline – they voted 293 to 46 in favour of a snap election, falling short of the required super-majority.
Mr Johnson said he wanted to head to the polls next month to break the political deadlock, and accused opposition parties of making “outrageous excuses” to delay a vote.
The PM is expected on Tuesday to continue to campaign for the election he is yet to have any success in triggering.
Meanwhile, the race is on to replace John Bercow as Commons Speaker after he announced his intention to stand down next month.
Labour former minister Harriet Harman, the longest-standing female MP as Mother of the House, announced her intention to run for the influential post.
Deputy speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who is also Labour, and veteran Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh earlier confirmed their intentions to stand.
Also came the confirmation that Amber Rudd, who quit Mr Johnson’s Cabinet criticising him for failing to prioritise preventing no deal, would not run in her Hastings and Rye constituency at the next general election.