DUP hopeful of deal on Conservative government ‘soon’

13 Jun

Media captionMs Foster said she would not ‘negotiate over the airwaves’

The Democratic Unionist Party leader has said she hopes to seal a deal on supporting Theresa May’s minority government “sooner rather than later”.

After meeting the prime minister in Downing Street, Arlene Foster said discussions were “going well” and she hoped for a “successful conclusion”.

The BBC understands a final meeting to approve the deal is set for Wednesday.

But ex-Conservative PM Sir John Major said he was “dubious” about the idea and its impact on the peace process.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that if the Conservatives “locked” themselves into a deal with one of the main parties in Northern Ireland, there was a danger the government would no longer be seen as an “impartial honest broker” in restoring the power-sharing arrangements and upholding NI institutions.

Peace in Northern Ireland should “not be regarded as a given”, said Sir John – whose government laid the foundations for the peace process in the 1990s – and nothing should be done to “exaggerate the differences” between the unionist and nationalist communities.

Media captionI am “concerned” about a deal with the DUP, says former prime minister Sir John Major

He urged Theresa May to consider governing on her own, saying this would not “carry the baggage” for the Conservatives that an arrangement with the DUP would.

Sir John suggested the DUP would be asking for money and that would be seen as the “government paying cash for votes in Parliament”, and would be received badly in other parts of the UK.

Mrs May and Mrs Foster met for more than an hour, but the PM said nothing as she left for the Commons where MPs have returned and re-elected John Bercow as Speaker unopposed.

Addressing a packed House, the PM urged MPs to “come together in a spirit of national unity” to tackle the challenges facing the UK, urging them to help the country overcome divisions between “old and young and rich and poor”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn congratulated Mrs May on “returning as PM” and said he “looked forward to this Parliament, however short it may be”.

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Image caption

Arlene Foster and the 10 MPs Theresa May hopes will keep them in power

He joked that he welcomed the prospect of a Queen’s Speech once this “coalition of chaos has been negotiated”, but said if this did not happen, he was “ready to offer strong and stable leadership in the national interest”.

Conservative sources said “constructive” progress had been made in their talks with the DUP and both sides were “working carefully through the paperwork” to complete the deal.

Mrs Foster told the BBC that talks were continuing and areas being discussed including Brexit, counter-terrorism and “doing what’s right for Northern Ireland in respect of economic matters”.

Media caption“At least someone got a landslide” – the PM’s comment was met with laughter

The Conservatives are having to rely on the support of 10 DUP MPs after they fell eight seats short of winning an overall majority at the general election.

Mrs May has chaired the first meeting of the cabinet since the election and has been finalising her reshuffle, with changes including Steve Baker, a leading backbench Brexiteer, becoming a minister in the Department for Exiting The EU.

The move was welcomed by Conservative commentators but the Lib Dems said far from “softening her stance” on Brexit after the inconclusive election result, the PM had put a “fox in charge of guarding the hen house”.

The prime minister is now in France for talks and a working dinner with President Emmanuel Macron. While the focus will be on combating online radicalisation and terrorism, Brexit will also be discussed.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the new Environment Secretary Michael Gove predicted the alliance with the DUP would “strengthen the United Kingdom”, and it was “entirely possible” to meet DUP concerns about cross-border trade with the Republic of Ireland after Brexit without the government changing its approach to negotiations.

Amid calls from some MPs for the Conservatives to rethink their Brexit strategy, he said there was a “clear consensus” for leaving the single market and ending free movement while retaining the “maximum access” to EU markets and maintaining co-operation in key areas such as science.

But in an article for the Financial Times, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned that talks now had to begin “very quickly”.

Media captionWho are the DUP?

Media captionPollsters have had a pretty rough time of late, we asked one what’s gone wrong

The agreement with the DUP is expected to be very different in nature to the coalition deal agreed between the Conservatives and Lib Dems in 2010, with DUP politicians not getting cabinet jobs and their support for the majority of new legislation to be determined on a vote-by-vote basis.

Sinn Fein, whose seven MPs will not take their seats in Westminster, said any deal must be approved by the Northern Ireland executive when it is back up and running.

“Any agreement reached with the DUP – financial or otherwise – cannot be to the detriment of anyone else in our society,” said Belfast West MP Paul Maskey.

In other Downing Street news…

Media captionPalmerston v Larry: Tensions in Westminster on TV broadcast

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