Wednesday 23 August 2017

DUP threaten to walk away from Theresa May's minority government

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, and the Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds, stand on the steps of 10 Downing Street before talks with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, in central London, Britain. Photo: REUTERS/Phil Noble
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, and the Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds, stand on the steps of 10 Downing Street before talks with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, in central London, Britain. Photo: REUTERS/Phil Noble

David Young and Colm Kelpie

British Prime Minister Theresa May's hopes of a deal with the DUP to shore up her minority government have hit a setback, as the Northern Irish party warned a deal was "certainly not imminent".

A DUP source said that talks with Mrs May's Conservatives "haven't proceeded in a way that the DUP would have expected" and cautioned that the party "can't be taken for granted".

Last night there was speculation that the Conservatives could even open talks with the Liberal Democrats' 12 MPs about supporting the Tory Government if the DUP talks fail.

The development came just a day ahead of the Queen's Speech, and threatens to leave Mrs May uncertain of her ability to secure a Commons majority for her government's legislative programme for the coming two years. But the source said that an agreement before state opening of parliament could not be entirely ruled out, if there was movement in the talks between the parties.

The DUP is urging the British government to give "greater focus" to the negotiations.

A Conservative source said: "Talks are ongoing with the DUP and we continue to work towards a confidence and supply arrangement.

"As we have said, both parties are committed to strengthening the union, combating terrorism, delivering Brexit and delivering prosperity across the whole United Kingdom.

"While our discussions continue, it is important the government gets on with its business.

"That is why we are putting forward a Queen's Speech which the whole House of Commons can get behind: securing a Brexit deal that works for every part of our country, strengthening our economy, making our society fairer, and keeping our country safe."

The source declined to discuss reports that a deal could be reached as early as tomorrow.

Mrs May was forced to seek support from other parties after the snap election on June 8 left her nine MPs short of an overall majority in the House of Commons.

Speaking outside Downing Street the day after the poll, Mrs May said that she would "continue to work with our friends and allies in the Democratic Unionist Party" to ensure she was able to command a majority.

She made clear she was not offering a full coalition with ministerial jobs for DUP MPs, but was seeking a "confidence and supply" arrangement.

But after initial signs of progress, the Conservatives were forced to row back on a premature announcement that agreement had been reached, and talks have now dragged on for 11 days without reaching a conclusion.

It is thought the DUP is asking for more investment for Northern Ireland as part of the price of its support, and the party also wants the retention of the triple-lock guarantee on pensions and winter fuel allowances for older people.

Meanwhile, European Commissioner Phil Hogan has said the DUP should represent its voters by advocating for a soft Brexit and pushing to stay in the customs union.

"If the people in Northern Ireland are to be properly represented by the DUP... they should insist, as part of the negotiations for confidence and supply arrangement, in staying in the customs union," Mr Hogan said.

He argued Sinn Féin's seven MPs in the North should take their seats in Westminster, claiming it would provide the party with political leverage and also "not leave the field completely to the Democratic Unionist Party". "I think that their negotiating position would be strongly enhanced on behalf of the people that they represent if they were to take their seats," he said.

But Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson said people should respect the voters of the North, as Sinn Féin ran on an abstentionist platform.

Irish Independent

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