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Doubts shroud Tory-DUP deal as Deputy PM Green says it's only a 'possibility'

By Robert Merrick

Theresa May’s “deputy” threw her hopes of a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party into fresh doubt when he described it as merely a “possibility”.

Damian Green also set up a clash with police chiefs begging for an end to damaging funding cuts when he insisted: “There are no police cuts.”

Speaking ahead of the Prime Minister’s first – and possibly last – Queen’s Speech, Mr Green played down expectations of quickly finalising an agreement for the DUP to prop her up.

The talks have hit a wall - 11 days after Ms May claimed a deal was done – which deprives the Tories of a guaranteed majority for any of the Bills to be unveiled today.

DUP sources have taken aim at the lack of “negotiating experience” on the Conservative side, a devastating criticism, just days after the separate Brexit talks also got underway.

Asked if an agreement was close, Mr Green replied: “There is still the possibility – there’s every possibility – of a DUP deal.”

The First Secretary of State, the Prime Minister’s effective deputy, insisted the talks went “much wider” than just the Northern Ireland party’s demands for extra spending and tax breaks.

Both sides saw the value of a “confidence and supply” arrangement, with the DUP backing the Government on key votes while preventing it being brought down by motions of no confidence.

But, Mr Green added: “All talks of this kind take a long time - and they are still continuing.”

Today’s legislative programme is expected to be stripped of key Tory election manifesto pledges, because of the need for a minority government to avoid controversial votes.

Moves to open new grammar schools, end universal free school meals for infants, end the “triple lock” on pension payments and means-test winter fuel payments are all likely to be abandoned.

But, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Green insisted” “This is not a thin Queen’s Speech,” – pointing to measures on the economy, infrastructure and tackling injustices.

He acknowledged it would be dominated by Brexit, with up to eight Bills expected to prepare for the complications of departure day, in March 2019.

“The biggest element of what’s in are Brexit bills, because we have got two years to do this deal,” Mr Green said.

“We need to be in a position, after we’ve done the negotiations, to make sure that our agriculture is secure, our immigration system is secure and so on.”

He denied changes to social care had been “abandoned”, with a consultation over the summer, adding: “It will include a cap on costs.”

And Mr Green dismissed warnings, including from Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley - Britain’s leading anti-terror police chief – that funds diverted to fight terrorism could leave the public at risk.

“There are no police cuts – we have protected police budgets in this parliament,” he insisted.

“As well as the police budget, we have increased hugely the counter-terrorism budget.”

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