The extraordinary outcome of the general election may delay the Queen’s Speech to Parliament, as the DUP and the Conservatives continue to hammer out an agreement.
Arlene Foster will today meet the prime minister in Downing Street, having flown to London with her team of 10 MPs to finalise the details of what at this stage is likely to be a minimalist ‘confidence and supply’ deal to at least guarantee Theresa May’s position.
Last night Mrs May’s most senior minister, Damian Green, confirmed that the Queen’s Speech, due to set out the government’s legislative programme next Monday, could be delayed as the Tories seek an agreement with the DUP.
The first secretary of state said that agreement with the DUP would have to be sealed before finalising the details of the Queen’s Speech.
Mr Green said talks with the DUP were “going well”, adding: “At this very important time, we want to produce a substantial Queen’s Speech.”
But senior Conservatives acknowledged that the failure to secure an overall majority will mean the agenda set out in their manifesto would have to be “pruned back”.
If the State Opening of Parliament is delayed, the Queen may have to miss part of Royal Ascot – one of her favourite annual events which begins on Tuesday.
The monarch particularly looks forward to heading to the Berkshire racecourse each June.
Although the DUP has been clear that it will only back the Conservatives, the DUP has been publicly cautious as to what exactly it will demand from Mrs May in return for keeping her in power.
Yesterday the DUP MP Gregory Campbell released a statement which added to the growing impression that the DUP’s demands – at least initially – are likely to be financial, rather than on issues such as parading.
The East Londonderry MP said: “Difficult as the election campaign was, coming so soon after the Assembly election in March, the even more difficult part now follows. As a result of the national outcome our 10 MPs are now needed to help form a government. We have already met representatives of the Conservative Party and will have further meetings this week.
“At this stage it is not possible to go into detail regarding what we will be seeking to achieve through these discussions, suffice to say that we intend to use our influence and votes for the greater good and stability of the United Kingdom and in particular for Northern Ireland.
“I’m a unionist and I want the United Kingdom to prosper together. Government doesn’t create jobs but it creates the conditions to allow employers to grow. The DUP’s manifesto set our policy roadmap for improving the economic conditions in Northern Ireland. I will work to deliver those commitments. I don’t want more young people leaving our shores in search of work.
“Growing our private sector will ultimately reduce our dependence on the Block Grant and give us more money to invest in public services.”
Earlier yesterday, Mrs Foster said that her party would use its enhanced influence at Westminster responsibly.
Mrs Foster said she hoped to capitalise on opportunities the situation presented for Northern Ireland.
She said: “When I meet with the prime minister in London tomorrow, I will be mindful of our responsibility to help bring stability to the nation at this time of challenge.
“We will be working to agree arrangements that can provide the whole nation with good government.
“The DUP will work to bring about outcomes that are beneficial to all, and in Parliament Northern Ireland’s case will be centre stage.”
The DUP’s social conservatism on issues such as gay marriage and abortion has been in the spotlight in Great Britain since its role as parliamentary kingmaker became clear.
Mrs Foster branded some of the commentary and analysis about her party as “inaccurate and misleading”.
“I have no doubt over time those responsible will look foolish in the extreme,” she said.
Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Foster said the election result had caused a “political earthquake” across the United Kingdom.
“In truth, no-one expected the outcome of the snap general election to be a hung Parliament, and for the DUP to be in such an influential position,” she said.
She added: “The mandate given to us by the people will be used responsibly.
“We stood on a clear policy platform of wanting to strengthen the Union, of working for a good deal for Northern Ireland as the United Kingdom leaves the EU and of promising to do our best to get Stormont up and running again for the benefit of all.
“We will use the position we find ourselves in to do as we promised.”
Mrs Foster concluded: “The next few weeks represent a real opportunity for everyone in Northern Ireland to heed the will of the people and capitalise on the opportunities that lie ahead for everyone.”