The Tories and the DUP remain “miles apart” on key elements of a deal to shore up Theresa May’s minority government a DUP source has said, even as the new Parliament is already up and running.
Sticking points are thought to involve DUP demands for additional funding for Northern Ireland, with reports suggesting it is seeking a sum of £2billion as part of any pact.
The failure to bridge differences casts doubt on Mrs May’s ability to get all the government’s plans – as set out in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday – through Parliament.
Top Tory minister Damian Green said no agreement may be reached in time for a crunch Commons vote on the package on June 29. One unnamed DUP source told the Press Association: “They thought they had us in the bag and they wouldn’t have to pay a price for it.”
But DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said he is “confident” a deal can be struck by then
It remains unclear exactly what the impasse around the DUP-Tory negotiations is – or even what the central demands are.
Multiple media outlets, including the BBC, were stating on Wednesday that the DUP had demanded roughly £2bn, to be split equally between health and infrastructure projects.
These reports did not cite a specific source for this claim, or say where the money is supposed to be spent.
The DUP told the News Letter that it could not comment on the terms of the talks.
However, a source within the party told the News Letter that the figure was not reliable – something supported by Mr Donaldson himself in a BBC interview, when he said the number was “wild speculation”.
There is supposed to be a meeting on Thursday evening of senior DUP members, however the party has suggested that this was scheduled some time ago and is not necessarily linked to the talks process.
The Queen officially opened Parliament without some of the ceremonial trapping which usually accompanies it – arriving by car rather than carriage and not wearing her state crown – before heading off to the Royal Ascot race meeting.
The heated session in the Commons which followed saw Mr Donaldson pledge to stand up for Northern Irish voters after a Green MP labelled him and his colleagues “dinosaurs”.
At one point, another MP asked Mrs May how she was “going to convince the country that she can negotiate a successful Brexit within the time limit, with 27 other EU countries, when she hasn’t been able even to negotiate a deal with 10 DUP members of this House in the time limit before the Queen’s Speech?”
In addition, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made reference to the uneasy LibDem/Tory coalition of 2010, and said that “a sequel may be in the offing - although I understand that the latest coalition may already be in some chaos, and nothing could emphasise that chaos more than the Queen’s Speech we’ve just heard”.
At the heart of the ongoing Tory-DUP negotiations is a “confidence and supply arrangement”, under which the DUP would not join the government but would guarantee to ensure its survival by voting with it on financial measures and no-confidence motions.
As well as speculation about a possible funding boost for Northern Ireland, it is also believed the DUP is looking for a more generous deal from the Treasury over the planned devolution of corporation tax powers, as well as cuts to air passenger duty.
The unnamed DUP source who spoke to the Press Association said officials within the Northern Ireland Office are urging caution on a deal because of concerns the government could compromise its status as an honest broker in peace process talks.
But Mr Green insisted that there was still “every possibility” of agreement.
“Clearly, two political parties, we have some differences, but we have a lot in common,” he told BBC Radio 4.
The parties, for example, have similar concerns about combating terrorism, and about “the Irish border issue”.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael said any deal with the DUP which meant extra cash for Northern Ireland would also require increased funding for Scotland and Wales, adding: “The question is where does it come from and how are you going to pay for it?”
At one point during the first debate of the new Parliament, Green MP Caroline Lucas said none of the bills proposed in the Queen’s Speech were about the environment, and asked if this is because the prime minister “has been influenced by the DUP dinosaurs” – READ MORE ABOUT THAT HERE.