Foster poised to seal pact with Tories that puts DUP at heart of government
Arlene Foster and Theresa May are today set to agree a historic deal that will see the Tory government returned to power at Westminster with DUP support.
While most areas of the pact have already been hammered out, the two leaders are due to meet again to conclude the final details of the ground-breaking agreement.
Sources told the Belfast Telegraph that yesterday's meetings between the Tories and the DUP went "unbelievably well" with "considerable progress" made on a wide range of issues.
The DUP is expected to secure measures which it believes will help Northern Ireland's economy with investment in infrastructure, the abolition of air passenger duty, a cut in corporation tax, and a softer Brexit among the issues under discussion.
Mrs Foster, who last night remained in London, said she believed there would be a "successful conclusion" to discussions with a deal reached "sooner rather than later".
A senior Tory source said: "We are making a lot of progress, it's all being done in the spirit of cooperation, with a real focus on strengthening the Union and providing stability at this time."
With her party set for the role of kingmakers at Westminster, Mrs Foster is on the brink of an incredible political comeback that few would have foreseen when her party was embroiled in the 'cash for ash' scandal just months ago.
The DUP leader stood outside Downing Street waving to the world's media yesterday before she and deputy leader Nigel Dodds entered for talks.
Without DUP support, the Tories risk the Queen's Speech being voted down in the House of Commons next week.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn predicted that a Conservative minority government propped up by the DUP would be "a coalition of chaos". But the Prime Minister last night insisted that any new arrangements could work.
"What we are doing in relation to the productive talks that we are holding with the DUP is ensuring that it is possible to, with their support, give the stability to the UK government that I think is necessary at this time," Mrs May said. Speaking from Paris, where she was meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, Mrs May continued: "We stand at a critical time with those Brexit negotiations starting only next week - I think that stability is important. We have worked as a party with the DUP before and those are productive talks.
"The intent is to ensure that we have the stability of government in the national interest."
She denied that a DUP-Tory deal would undermine the Good Friday Agreement and the chances of a return to devolution at Stormont.
"We as a government remain absolutely steadfast in our commitment to the Belfast Agreement and the subsequent agreements and we continue to work with all the parties in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in ensuring that we can continue to put in place those measures necessary to fulfil those agreements," she said. Mrs Foster declined to go into detail about the negotiations but said that government stability, Brexit, counter-terrorism and doing what's right for Northern Ireland economically were high on the agenda. She told ITV that she wanted to see a "sensible Brexit that works for the whole of the nation", with a "frictionless border" with the Republic. The DUP leader said that critics who predicted that a deal between her party and the Tories would be disastrous for devolution were wrong.
"If we are able to do a deal that brings more economic prosperity to Northern Ireland surely that's a good thing for all of our people in Northern Ireland," she said. Mrs Foster dismissed as "complete and utter nonsense" widespread claims in the British media that her party was homophobic, and she said that social issues had played no part in her discussions with Mrs May.
Addressing the House of Commons, the Prime Minister urged MPs to "come together in a spirit of national unity" to tackle the challenges facing the UK.
Mr Corbyn congratulated Mrs May on "returning as PM" and said he "looked forward to this Parliament, however short it may be". He said that he was on standby to "offer strong and stable leadership in the national interest" as an alternative to a Tory minority government.
The DUP will not be entering a full-blown coalition with the Tories nor taking Cabinet jobs, but will be agreeing a 'confidence and supply' deal.