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DUP tells Theresa May to 'cut deal now or run cap in hand for next five years'

By Suzanne Breen

Senior DUP figures have told Theresa May that if she doesn't reach a deal with the party now, she will be continually running "cap in hand" to it over the next five years.

Although progress towards a deal faltered yesterday, the DUP remains optimistic that it can reach an agreement to support a Tory minority government.

But a senior party source rounded on the Northern Ireland Office, which it accused of interfering against a deal by "wrongly arguing" that it would compromise London's impartiality.

As Mrs May today sets out her legislative programme for the next two years in the Queen's Speech, another DUP figure accused her of being "unfocused" in her efforts to broker an agreement.

He warned that she needed to "up her game" over coming days.

DUP sources have said that a deal must be in place before Parliament votes on the Queen's Speech next Wednesday.

A senior party source said: "Theresa May has a clear choice to make.

"The options are an agreement with my party now on a 'confidence and supply' basis or to operate on a case by case basis over the next five years.

"The latter leaves the DUP with far greater bargaining power than a comprehensive agreement now.

"The NIO's intervention is actually deeply unhelpful to the Government because the lack of agreement gives the DUP a more powerful position at Westminster and requires Theresa May to run cap in hand to the DUP every week."

Party figures said that while Treasury concerns about the implications of increased funding for Northern Ireland had been raised, the NIO was proving the biggest obstacle to a deal.

Although Taoiseach Leo Varadker has said he accepted Mrs May's assurances that any agreement won't endanger London's neutrality, both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have rejected her assertions.

The DUP claimed that the NIO had intervened to warn of the dangers of compromising that impartiality.

Arlene Foster's party has found this intervention "deeply unhelpful" to its chances of reaching a deal, the source said.

"All of this argument about Government neutrality on Northern Ireland is really a red herring," he claimed.

"The DUP isn't asking the Government to take sides on the devolution issue or on the politics of Northern Ireland. It does expect the Government of the day to be an advocate of the Union but that is a wider UK issue rather than an exclusively Northern Ireland one."

A DUP figure said that his party and the Tories weren't "even on the same page at the minute" in terms of the details of a deal.

But he remained upbeat about an eventual agreement. "Talks are continuing and things can move very quickly. I am still optimistic," he said.

The DUP source said that Mrs May was "far more unfocused" in her negotiation style than her predecessors - Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron - had been. This was symbolised by the fact that she had left it to her chief whip Gavin Williamson to deputise for her in much of the negotiations, he said.

He described Downing Street as currently being in "a state of absolute chaos" and said that what should have been "a relatively straightforward deal" had become riddled with complications.

Today will be the first time in decades that a Prime Minister will propose a Queen's Speech without a Commons majority.

The programme set out at the State opening of Parliament will feature "a number of Bills" geared towards making a success of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, Mrs May said.

But she insisted that the rest of Westminster business won't be put on hold during the Brussels negotiations, promising measures to build a stronger economy, protect consumers, tackle domestic violence and fix a "dysfunctional" housing market.

Downing Street sources declined to be drawn on reports that the speech will ditch headline promises from the Conservative manifesto, such as the scrapping of universal free school meals, means-testing of the winter fuel allowance and the widely criticised dementia tax.

Mrs May acknowledged that the election outcome wasn't "the one I hoped for". She continued: "This Government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent. We will work hard every day to gain the trust and confidence of the British people, making their priorities our priorities."

But she insisted there would be no going back on Brexit, stressing that more than 80% of voters on June 8 backed parties promising to honour the referendum result.

Belfast Telegraph


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