Queen's Speech could be delivered without majority as Theresa May's DUP talks falter

DUP demands a 'greater focus' to the negotiations on the Conservative side, adding 'The party can't be taken for granted'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 20 June 2017 18:17
Comments
The Queen's Speech - what is it?

Theresa May faces the embarrassment of her Queen's Speech going ahead without the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party – ten days after she claimed a deal was done.

The right-wing Northern Ireland party warned the Prime Minister it “can't be taken for granted”, as the long-running negotiations appeared to run into trouble.

DUP sources also took aim at the lack of “negotiating experience” on the Conservative side – a serious criticism, a day after the separate Brexit talks also got underway.

An agreement appeared unlikely before Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech, denying Ms May the guaranteed Commons majority she was seeking when she sought the DUP’s support.

If the party abstains on the crucial Queen’s Speech vote, the Prime Minister will rely on all her MPs voting in order for it to scrape through with a majority of just two.

But the DUP source said agreement before the State Opening of Parliament could not entirely be ruled out, if there was movement in the talks between the parties later today.

The talks are attempting to secure a “confidence and supply” arrangement, rather than a full-blown coalition, after the Tories lost their Commons majority.

Why the DUP is so controversial

It would mean the DUP backing the Government on its Budget and other key votes and – crucially – preventing it being brought down by motions of no confidence.

Ten days ago, Downing Street claimed an outline agreement had been reached, but was forced to backtrack after a DUP spokesman denied it.

Now, with the Queen’s Speech just hours away, the DUP has made known that it wants the Government to give “greater focus” to the negotiations, adding: “The party can't be taken for granted.

“The negotiations haven't proceeded in a way that DUP would have expected,” the source also told Sky News.

The delay is believed to have been caused by the DUP’s big financial demands, for both higher public spending in Northern Ireland and lucrative tax breaks.

On Monday, the Prime Minister was forced to bow to pressure to publish the full details of any agreement, amid rising concern about the potential cost.

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow Chancellor, wrote to the Treasury over reports that the DUP is seeking an exemption from air passenger duty levied at airports in Northern Ireland.

Theresa May responds to John Major criticism over DUP deal

If granted, that demand would cost at least £90m a year, Mr McDonnell said - enough to pay for “2,000 firefighters”.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, as well as the cross-community Alliance Party, warned that a deal would undermine attempts to restore the power-sharing executive at Stormont.

Asked about the continuing delay, a Number 10 spokesman would say only that talks were “ongoing”.

The DUP also opposes axing the “triple lock” guarantee on pension increases and means-testing winter fuel payments – Tory manifesto pledges likely to be dropped from the Queen’s Speech.

Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman, said: “After one week of talks, we are no closer to finding out what the DUP have asked for and what concessions are being made.

“This is the first time in decades that a Prime Minister will propose a Queen's Speech without a Commons majority.

“Her failure to reach a deal in time with the DUP doesn't bode well for the tough Brexit talks ahead.”

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