DUP-Tory talks inch to conclusion as other parties head to meet May

DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds head into 10 Downing Street onTuesday for talks with Theresa May
DUP leader Arlene Foster and deputy leader Nigel Dodds head into 10 Downing Street onTuesday for talks with Theresa May

Talks between the DUP and the Conservatives about a deal to give Theresa May a Commons majority have continued for another day without resolution after unspecified issues delayed agreement.

An agreement had been expected on Tuesday but despite talks continuing late into Tuesday night no resolution was found.

The London fire tragedy yesterday morning took the focus off the negotiations, although contact continued.

The DUP is understood to be making a series of demands, some of which are financial and some of which may relate to specifically unionist demands further down the line even if they are not announced as part of this agreement.

The talks are expected to continue on Thursday, but a second set of discussions will also be taking place in Downing Street as the prime minister meets every one of the five main Stormont party leaders to discuss the Stormont negotiations to restore devolution in Northern Ireland.

The DUP was publicly silent on what is going on.

But Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill continued to put pressure on the government over its looming deal with Arlene Foster’s party.

Ms O’Neill said: “I will be making it very clear that any deal between the Tories and the DUP cannot be allowed to undermine the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.”

Secretary of State James Brokenshire will also attend the Downing Street meetings.

He characterised the discussions as a contribution to the three-week process to restore devolution.

“The UK government is offering whatever support we can, working alongside the Irish government, as appropriate, honouring our respective commitments in the Belfast Agreement to serve the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland.

“There is very little time left. An agreement to restore devolved power-sharing government in Stormont must be reached by the June 29 deadline.

“Ultimately, I think the parties understand people voted in the March Assembly elections for a strong voice at Stormont.

“Northern Ireland’s political leaders now have it in their hands to take control and shape a brighter future for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

Wednesday was a day of change for Labour and Conservative ministers as well as for the Irish government.

Owen Smith, who unsuccessfully challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership, was appointed shadow Northern Ireland secretary.

Chloe Smith, the Conservative MP for Norwich North, was appointed a junior minister in the NIO.

And new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar moved the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, who has been representing the Irish government at the Stormont talks, to be justice minister.

It has become increasingly clear that the Queen’s Speech to Parliament is likely to be delayed because of the DUP-Tory talks.

The speech, part of the State Opening of Parliament, had been scheduled for Monday.

In the Commons today, there were shouts of “give us a clue” and “chaos” from the Labour benches as Speaker John Bercow confirmed that he remains unclear about when Parliament will officially return.

The Queen’s Speech is meant to reflect the government’s legislative programme, something which will now have to be agreed with the DUP, given that the prime minister does not have sufficient Tory MPs alone to ensure that legislation can be passed.

Mr Bercow, outlining the process to swear in MPs, said extra time will be made available “on the day of the Queen’s Speech” although he was unable to offer a date.

Labour MPs could be heard making jokes about when the Queen’s Speech will emerge, with Prime Minister Theresa May watching on from the government benches.

Mr Bercow, to laughter, added: “I’m not in a position to divulge any further information on that matter.”

Parliament is inching closer to its return with those elected on June 8 completing the formalities needed to confirm their positions as MPs.

All MPs are expected to be sworn in before the State Opening of Parliament to enable them to speak in debates, vote and receive a salary.

Mrs May led her Cabinet in retaking their Commons seats, opting to swear the oath of allegiance to the Queen rather than affirm.

The swearing-in process will continue on Thursday and extra time will be made available if required.

Sinn Fein on Tuesday dismissed speculation that they would take their seven seats in Westminster to help Labour block Mrs May’s Queen’s Speech.

But one British republican MP, Labour’s Paul Flynn, took the oath after saying “as a republican by conviction and under protest, I swear by Almighty God...”.