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DUP denies demanding £2bn to shore up May and Tory government

Party confident deal is still on but insists figures being bandied about 'inaccurate'

Suzanne Breen

The DUP remains confident that it can secure a deal with the Tories involving a substantial cash investment for Northern Ireland - but the party has dismissed reports that it could be up to £2 billion.

Senior party figures said that they still believed that an agreement with Theresa May can be reached by next week, when Parliament votes on the Queen's Speech. An investment package in health, education and infrastructure is central to the negotiations, which were continuing last night.

DUP sources said that a reduction in corporation tax and the scrapping of air passenger duty played a much less significant part of the discussions. It is understood that there has been resistance from the Treasury on those issues.

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told the Belfast Telegraph: "The discussions with the Government are continuing and we remain confident that progress can be made towards an agreement.

"But the sort of figures regarding a (£2bn) financial package being bandied about are wildly inaccurate. They do not reflect the reality of the fiscal situation in the UK."

Mr Donaldson was speaking after the Queen's Speech in which Mrs May watered down her party's election manifesto and focused on Brexit talks with the EU.

Earlier, First Secretary of State Damian Green told the BBC that while it was "possible" that his party and the DUP may not be able to agree a deal, the talks were "progressing well" and were being conducted in a "constructive spirit".

Speaking in the House of Commons, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds warned Mrs May that his party expected to see more money spent on health and education, with an end to the "dark tunnel of austerity".

He said that the UK must deliver Brexit as people had last year voted to leave the European single market and customs union.

He explained that his party's focus would be on strengthening the Union, combating terrorism, keeping Northern Ireland "moving forward" and prosperity. Mr Dodds said: "It is in the furtherance of those objectives that we will act and vote in this Parliament over the next five years."

The North Belfast MP said that the economic outlook of Northern Ireland would be "easier to predict" with "stable" government, both in Belfast and Westminster.

He continued: "The electorate sent a very clear message to politicians about austerity at the election, and I think that it's very clear since that election that people have to listen to what the people said.

"For our part, we again will work with Government in the course of the next period in this Parliament to ensure we do deliver prosperity, do deliver greater spending on health and education, and that we do see an end to the dark tunnel of austerity."

Addressing Brexit, Mr Dodds said that attempts to "undermine or subvert" the democratic vote in last June's referendum would be "catastrophic".

He said that he welcomed assurances from the UK and EU negotiators to find "sensible outcomes" to the challenges facing Northern Ireland - including the border with the Republic.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has accused the Tories of "prioritising a self-serving negotiation with the DUP" over the Stormont talks.

Newly elected Foyle MP Elisha McCallion said: "Theresa May set out her priorities in the Queen's Speech and, unsurprisingly, protecting the North from Brexit and austerity cuts didn't feature.

"Her Government committed to legislation to leave the customs union and the single market, and imposing Brexit on the people of the North.

"The DUP supports this position and it will have a devastating impact on our economy, rights and public services."

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey said it was vital that Brexit was well-managed and that there was no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, or an internal border within the UK.

"We must also ensure that our agri-food sector can still export freely across Europe without being burdened with restrictive high tariffs," he added.

"I will continue to press the Government through every stage of negotiations so that issues affecting Northern Ireland are high on the agenda."

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