Tony Blair held emergency talks yesterday with David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader, to prevent a deal onNorthern Ireland unravelling.
Alarm was caused in Downing Street when John Taylor, Mr Trimble's deputy, said the chances of securing Unionist support had dropped from 90 per cent to 60 per cent.
Mr Taylor gave a positive response at the weekend to the IRA statement saying it would put its arms "verifiably beyond use". But last night he hinted that he could withdraw his support for the latest stage in the peace process. He warned any attempt to drop the Royal Ulster Constabulary name and lower the Union flag on Northern Ireland's government buildings could "scupper" moves to revive the Northern Ireland assembly and devolve power to Belfast on 22 May.
Mr Taylor said he was outraged at the Government's move to debate the latest devolution plan in the Commons next Tuesday and intended to vote against it because he thought unionists were being bounced into a decision. "The whole thing is being rushed far too quickly and will end in tears unless the Government slows down," he said.
Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is expected to publish his Bill to implement the reforms to the RUC recommended by Chris Patten. It could contain a compromise clause to incorporate the RUC title in the new name for the police service of Northern Ireland.
Mr Trimble, who was engaged in talks with Mr Blair by telephone, meets his executive tonight before the party's full ruling council on 20 May.