Theresa May has signalled she is “confident” of getting the Queen’s Speech through the Commons whether or not a deal is reached with the Democratic Unionists (DUP) by the State Opening of Parliament next week.
After days of uncertainty, the Government announced that the State Opening would now take place on Wednesday June 21 - two days later than originally scheduled.
The move came as a senior Conservative source said talks with the DUP on a deal to prop up a minority Tory administration were “progressing well” with “broad agreement” on the principles of the Speech, setting out the Government’s legislative programme for the coming year.
The source confirmed there was no need for a deal on a so-called “confidence and supply” arrangement to be sealed in order to press ahead with the Speech, and said Mrs May wanted the Government to “get on with its business”.
“Both parties are committed to strengthening the Union, combating terrorism, delivering Brexit and delivering prosperity across the whole country,” the source said.
“However, while talks are ongoing it is important the Government gets on with its business and we are confident there will be sufficient support across the House for passing the Queen’s Speech.”
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, in Downing Street for talks with Mrs May on restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland, refused to be drawn on how the negotiations were progressing.
“We are working on a series of fronts and we are working very, very hard to deliver good government for Northern Ireland and good government for the United Kingdom,” he said.
Tories have made clear since last week’s election that their discussions with the DUP revolve around assurances of support in key Commons votes, rather than a full coalition.
With her tally of Conservative MPs slashed to 317 in last week’s poll, Mrs May needs the backing of the DUP’s 10 members to reach the 320 required for a working majority in the Commons.
The listing of four policy areas where the parties are in agreement suggests a final deal may go further than a basic confidence and supply arrangement, which would see the DUP guarantee its support only on financial measures and no-confidence votes.
Mrs May held talks at Downing Street with the other Northern Ireland political parties in an attempt to allay growing concerns that the expected DUP deal would undermine the peace process.
The meetings came as time is running out for the parties to reach an agreement on restoring devolved government to Stormont, with the Government set to resume direct rule from Westminster if there is no deal by June 29.
In a statement afterwards, Mrs May said that “good progress” had been made and an agreement was possible if there was “good will on all sides”.
“My Government remains absolutely committed to doing everything we can to help take this process to a successful conclusion, remaining steadfast to our commitments in the Belfast Agreement and its successors,” she said.
However Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said they would oppose any deal which undermined the Good Friday Agreement, which commits the UK and Irish governments to demonstrate “rigorous impartiality” in their dealings with the different political traditions in Northern Ireland.
“We told the British Prime Minister that in our view she is playing fast and loose with the Good Friday Agreement in a desperate attempt to cling to power,” he said.
“A little side bargain to keep Theresa May in power - a temporary little arrangement - won’t have any integrity.”
At the same time, Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Fein leader in Stormont, made clear that an agreement on powersharing would require a substantial package of financial support for Northern Ireland from the UK Government.
“There has to be a strong financial package to allow us to deliver good public services when we get the executive up and running again,” she said.