DUP and Conservatives expect deal to be agreed on Wednesday

Talks continue on support for minority Tory government after May and Foster meet

DUP leader Arlene Foster and  deputy leader Nigel Dodds arriving at 10 Downing Street in London for talks on a deal to prop up a Tory minority administration. Photograph:  Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds arriving at 10 Downing Street in London for talks on a deal to prop up a Tory minority administration. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

Talks between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) about a confidence and supply agreement are expected to continue on Wednesday after a meeting between Theresa May and Arlene Foster ended without a deal. Ms Foster and the DUP’s leader at Westminster, Nigel Dodds, spent almost two hours with the prime minister at Downing Street on Tuesday morning.

“Discussions are going well with the government and we hope soon to be able to bring this work to a successful conclusion,” Ms Foster said after the meeting.

Both sides expect a deal to be agreed on Wednesday, which would guarantee the DUP’s support for Ms May’s minority government on important votes.

In return, the DUP is expected to seek more investment for Northern Ireland and a strong commitment to ensuring that the Border remains frictionless after Brexit. The party is also seeking changes to the Conservative manifesto which would ease austerity and avoid planned cuts to benefits for pensioners.

Earlier, former Conservative prime minister John Major warned that a pact with the DUP could undermine the Northern Ireland peace process because the British government could not be perceived as impartial.

“My main concern is the peace process. A fundamental part of that peace process is that the UK government needs to be impartial between all the competing interests in Northern Ireland. And the danger is that however much any government tries, they will not be seen to be impartial if they are locked into a parliamentary deal at Westminster with one of the Northern Ireland parties,” he told the BBC’s World at One.

“If there are difficulties with the Northern Ireland executive or with any one of a number of things that might well arise during the Brexit negotiations, it is very important that there’s an honest broker. And the only honest broker can be the UK government. And the question arises, if they cease to be seen as such by part of the community in Northern Ireland, then one can’t be quite certain how events will unwind. And that worries me a great deal about the peace process.”

Sir John suggested that any agreement which involved large increases in public funding for Northern Ireland in return for the DUP’s support could create resentment among voters in other parts of the UK.

“They would see it as the government paying cash for votes in parliament, and in doing so I think that could well cost votes in the country for the Conservative party, by the bucketload, at a subsequent election,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s seven newly-elected MPs were in London on Tuesday for a round of meetings, although they will not be taking up their seats at Westminster.

Brexit approach

The prime minister’s talks with the DUP came amid further pressure for a softening of her approach to Brexit and a call from former Conservative leader William Hague for a cross-party commission to direct her negotiating strategy. George Freeman, the MP who chairs the Conservative Policy Forum, suggested that ministers need to take a “less ideological” approach to Brexit following last week’s election.

“I think what we are hearing in this election is people want an approach that’s less partisan, less nationalistic, less ideological. I don’t think we have anything to fear from parliament debating it,” he told the BBC.

Ms May surprised Westminster on Tuesday by appointing Steve Baker, a leading backbench advocate of a hard Brexit, as a minister in the department for exiting the EU. Mr Baker heads the European Research Group, a caucus of Eurosceptic MPs who helped to pressurise David Cameron into holding last year’s referendum on EU membership.

His appointment as a Brexit minister will help to reassure Brexiteers on the Conservative backbenches that Ms May is not planning a significant softening of her approach to negotiating with the EU.