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Sterling below $1.30 on report that Northern Irish DUP to back rebel amendment

Key Points
  • Sterling falls as rumors abound over a challenge to the leadership of Theresa May.
  • A cabal within the Conservative Party has long criticized the prime minister's approach to negotiations with the European Union.
  • Now it is expected that MP's from Northern Ireland will also seek to undermine May's position by backing a plan to narrow her negotiating options.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - OCTOBER 18: British Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to speak to the media as she arrives for the October summit of European Union leaders on October 18, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. 
Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Sterling fell half a percent on Monday as fears grew that the prickly Irish border issue and disagreements within the UK ruling party over Brexit would see Prime Minister Theresa May face a serious challenge to her leadership.

The Telegraph newspaper's deputy political editor said the DUP, the Northern Irish party which props up British Prime Minister Theresa May, will back an amendment proposed by rebel Brexiteer lawmakers that will effectively make the European Union's backstop proposal illegal.

The news follows reports in Sunday newspapers quoting unnamed lawmakers saying May should prepare for a challenge to her leadership.

"(The DUP report) is just reinforcing the negative sentiment towards the pound. On the weekend we saw increasing concern over political instability in the UK and the threat of another leadership challenge back on the table," said Lee Hardman, FX strategist at MUFG in London.

Hardman said he still expected a deal eventually to be struck over Brexit but added: "The path to a deal seems to have become a bit harder."

By 1230 GMT, sterling was down 0.5 percent, having hit a low of $1.2982, its weakest since Oct. 4. Against the euro too, the pound extended losses, falling 0.4 percent/

Jittery markets are now awaiting May's speech to parliament at which she is expected to say that 95 percent of the Brexit divorce deal has been settled. But she will maintain opposition to the European Union's proposal for the land border with Northern Ireland.

However, her proposal to extend a status-quo transition period beyond the current proposed date of December 2021 has angered the eurosceptics in her party

Prominent Brexiteer Steve Baker, a former junior Brexit minister, will try to block the EU's backstop plan on Wednesday by attaching amendments to legislation passing through parliament that would effectively make the proposal illegal. Forty Tory lawmakers as well as the DUP are likely to support it, the Telegraph reported.

"(The leadership challenge issue) is hanging over sterling, which is (also) waiting for another steer on Brexit, likely from this address from May today." Investec economist Victoria Clarke said. May is due to speak at 1430 GMT.

Ireland too weighed in, with its foreign minister telling the Irish Times that an extended transition period could not be an alternative to a "backdrop" agreement.

Late last week Brexit optimism, alongside a paring of dollar long positions, saw short sterling bets fall to a net 50,353 contracts, versus more than 60,000 the week before, calculations by Reuters and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed.