May to hold talks with Foster to finalise deal on government

Strength of arrangement to be tested as Corbyn says: ‘I can still be prime minister’

British prime minister Theresa May says she will reshuffle cabinet posts following general election losses. Video: Reuters

 

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster is set to hold talks with Theresa May in Downing Street to finalise an agreement on propping up her minority government.

The DUP confirmed that Ms Foster would be going to number 10 on Tuesday after discussions in Belfast over the weekend were said to have made “good progress”.

“We had very good discussions yesterday with the Conservative Party in relation to how we could support them in forming a national government – one that would bring stability to the nation, she told Sky News. “Those discussions continue.”

Downing Street initially said on Saturday that an outline agreement on a “confidence and supply” arrangement had been reached with the DUP which would be put to the Cabinet for discussion on Monday.

But it later disclosed no deal had been finalised and talks on the arrangement will continue during the week as Ms May desperately tries to shore up her position after losing her commons majority in the election.

The strength of any deal looks set to be tested when the House of Commons meets, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing to try to bring down the Government by defeating Ms May in parliament and insisting: “I can still be prime minister.”

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
British foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

In another sign of the dangers facing Ms May, Sunday papers reported that Boris Johnson was either being encouraged to make a leadership bid in an effort to oust her, or actually preparing one – a claim dismissed as “tripe” by the foreign secretary.

The 10 DUP MPs could prove crucial in supporting the Conservatives on key votes after Thursday’s election saw Mrs May lose control of the House of Commons.

A confidence and supply deal would mean them backing the government on its Budget and confidence motions, but could potentially lead to other issues being decided on a vote-by-vote basis.

‘Commitment’

Talks held on Saturday were in line with Ms Foster’s “commitment to explore how we might bring stability to the nation at this time of great challenge”, her party said in a statement late on Saturday.

It said: “The talks so far have been positive. Discussions will continue next week to work on the details and to reach agreement on arrangements for the new Parliament.”

Number 10 had earlier said: “We can confirm that the Democratic Unionist Party have agreed to the principles of an outline agreement to support the Conservative government on a confidence and supply basis when parliament returns next week.”

Following talks between Ms May and the DUP on Saturday night, a second statement confirmed that no final deal had been reached.

DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Stormont Hotel.
DUP leader Arlene Foster at the Stormont Hotel.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The prime minister has tonight spoken with the DUP to discuss finalising a confidence and supply deal when parliament returns next week.

“We will welcome any such deal being agreed, as it will provide the stability and certainty the whole country requires as we embark on Brexit and beyond. As and when details are finalised both parties will put them forward.”

Ms May needs support in parliament as the Queen’s speech setting out the government’s programme is due on June 19th, with a crucial vote on it expected after a few days’ debate.

Mr Corbyn told the Sunday Mirror he would oppose the Queen’s speech all the way. “I can still be prime minister. This is still on. Absolutely,” Mr Corbyn said.

Peace process

Ms May’s desire to team up with the DUP does “not necessarily” undermine the Northern Ireland peace process, according to Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.

Asked about suggestions that any Conservative deal with the DUP would undermine Westminster’s impartiality as a co-guarantor of the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement), he told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “Well, not necessarily the case. Of course, it remains to be seen what the nature of that deal is. But this is an issue I did address the evening before last with Secretary of State James Brokenshire.

“I look forward to meeting with him again tomorrow if his appointment is reaffirmed, but yes I think it’s an important issue that you raise – the objectivity of both governments, and both governments working strictly in accordance with our legal responsibilities under the Belfast Agreement, the Irish government as co-guarantor, indeed the British Government as co-guarantor.”

Mr Flanagan added the EU member states are “ready to roll” when it comes to Brexit talks.

These are due to start within days, although they could be delayed given the UK’s political uncertainty. “I’m conscious of the fact that this clock is ticking,” Mr Flanagan said. “We’re a year now since the referendum. We lost some time over the last seven weeks during the general election campaign.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.

“Europe is ready to start these negotiations. Ireland is ready to sit with our 26 EU colleagues and commence the negotiations because uncertainty is the enemy of stability and uncertainty is the enemy of business.”

Asked if he would be against a delay, Mr Flanagan said: “We’re ready to roll. My understanding from all of my EU colleagues is that they’re ready to roll. It’s been said that Europe wishes to punish the UK, I see no evidence of that, I see no intention of that."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Ms May spoke by phone on Sunday morning.

They discussed the outcome of the election and the prime minister outlined the proposed supply and confidence arrangement between her party and the DUP.

According to a statement from the Taoiseach's office, Mr Kenny indicated his concern that nothing should happen to put the Good Friday Agreement at risk and the challenge  that this agreement will bring. He also noted the absence of any nationalist voice in Westminster following the election.

The statement said both leaders agreed that of immediate concern were efforts to establish an executive as soon as possible, with exploratory discussions with the NI parties to take place on Tuesday. The Taoiseach said there should be an early meeting between the prime minister and his successor Leo Varadkar and wished her well in the challenges that lie ahead.

Meanwhile, George Osborne has called Ms May “a dead woman walking” and suggested the prime minister would be forced to resign imminently.

The former chancellor said the campaign had undone the work of himself and former prime minister David Cameron in winning socially liberal seats such as a Bath, Brighton Kemptown and Oxford East, now lost to Labour and the Lib Dems.

“She is a dead woman walking and the only question is how long she remains on death row,” the editor of the Evening Standard said, defending his paper’s attacks on May as speaking from a “socially liberal, pro-business, economically liberal position” that he said had been consistent as editor and chancellor.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Osborne said he and Mr Cameron had spent “years getting back to office, winning in seats like Bath and Brighton and Oxford and I am angry when we go backwards and I am not afraid to say that”.

– PA/Guardian Service