The UK government will present its legislative programme on Wednesday with no guaranteed parliamentary majority, after talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party failed to produce a deal in time.
The delay means that Theresa May has no formal guarantee that she will be able to pass the programme — which will include vital legislation to make Brexit possible — that will be announced in the Queen’s Speech.
However, Arlene Foster, the DUP’s leader, has said her party’s 10 MPs will vote with the 318 Conservative MPs to pass the Queen’s Speech, meaning there is little immediate prospect of the government collapsing. The government needs 326 votes for an absolute majority in the 650 seat House of Commons, although in practice the number needed is slightly lower.
Talks about a “confidence and supply” agreement, whereby the DUP would support the Conservatives on confidence and budgetary votes, have been going on since June 10.
Mrs Foster told the BBC on Friday it was “right and proper” the DUP supported the government on the Queen’s Speech. Key votes on the speech are due on June 28 and 29 and if the government lost them it would collapse.
But a senior DUP source told the BBC the party could not be “taken for granted” — adding that if the PM could not reach a deal, “what does that mean for bigger negotiations she is involved in?”
The final financial terms of the DUP’s support for the government are still being hammered out, according to a person familiar with the DUP’s thinking.
A Conservative party official declined to comment except to say that the talks were continuing and to refuse to give timings for any announcement.
The Conservatives have announced that the new parliamentary session starting on Wednesday will, unusually, last two years rather than one. The government has said that it will give MPs extra time to consider Brexit legislation but it also means there will be no Queen’s Speech next year.
The DUP wants to cut the corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland from 19 per cent to 12.5 per cent, matching the rate in the Irish Republic. It has also been seeking more money for other spending in Northern Ireland.
Any final deal is expected to offer Mrs May some assurances of DUP support to ensure key votes are not subject to incessant haggling.
Nevertheless, the DUP is optimistic that its strong bargaining position will bring it significant advantages.
“The reality is that we can make this work for us whatever way you cut it,” one person close to the party’s leadership said.
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