DUP sets price of putting Miliband or Cameron in Downing Street at up to £1bn
The DUP will seek up to £1bn more funding for Northern Ireland as the price of keeping a Tory or Labour government in power, according to one of its leading MPs.
Ian Paisley said he would be open to a deal with either main party in return for "hundreds of millions" extra for Northern Ireland.
His intervention came as David Cameron shocked Westminster by announcing he would not contest a third term as prime minister - and named George Osborne, Theresa May and Boris Johnson as possible successors.
While the DUP, a socially conservative and Eurosceptic party, is generally considered closer to the Tories, Mr Paisley indicated it would be prepared to support a Labour administration if a favourable arrangement could be struck.
"I can see us doing a deal with either," he said. The DUP has already held initial discussions with both Tory and Labour frontbenchers in Westminster, the MP added.
With a hung parliament now looking increasingly likely after May 7, Mr Paisley's comments raise the prospect of a post-election bidding war between the major parties to secure the backing of the smaller parties. The Scottish National Party is also likely to demand significant policy and funding concessions for any informal alliance with Labour while Ukip is ready to do a deal with the Tories.
The DUP holds eight of Northern Ireland's 18 Westminster seats. Until now, the party leadership has presented a carefully limited set of policy goals for any alliance - including scrapping the 'bedroom tax', stronger controls on immigration and border security, and an EU referendum.
But Mr Paisley's comments suggest extra funding for Northern Ireland would be central to any deal. "We don't want cabinet positions, we don't want to be part of a formal government arrangement: we want a confidence and supply arrangement," he said.
"Northern Ireland gets just under £13bn a year [from Westminster]. There's no reason why, over the period of the next five years, that couldn't be increased by 'X' billion per year … I think that would be a very attractive deal - I'd break my arm for it."
Asked precisely how much extra the DUP would be seeking, Mr Paisley replied: "We'd have to work that out. But it would be hundreds of millions; it wouldn't be a paltry sum. It would be something that would ease burdens in Northern Ireland. Who knows what's going to be up for grabs - who knows the sort of influence we would be able to wield? This is a huge opportunity for us."
In return, he said the DUP could offer an arrangement which could provide stability to either Labour or the Tories. "We need a stable kingdom," he declared. "We'd want to do something that gives us a serious period - four or five years - of stable rule."
Mr Paisley, MP for North Antrim, said conversations had been going on at Westminster for some time. He added: "There are MPs who talk to us, from all sides, who say, 'We'd love to do a coalition with you guys, if we had to.' I get that from both Labour and Tory."
The final decision on any such deal is likely to be taken by the party leader Peter Robinson, and the DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds.
Mr Paisley denied members of the big parties were put off by its reputation for homophobic beliefs. "None of them has ever raised the issue," Mr Paisley said.
The DUP has also been holding talks with Ukip with a view to working together in the next parliament. Speaking after a meeting with Mr Robinson in Belfast last week, Ukip's deputy leader Paul Nuttall pointed out that the two parties combined could have more seats than the Liberal Democrats after May 7 - "which then could change the dynamic in Westminster altogether". Mr Paisley said working alongside Ukip would not pose problems for the DUP.