Theresa May’s grip on power is faltering after she was forced to retract her claim that a deal had been struck for the Democratic Unionists to prop her up.
In a night of farce, No 10 first announced that an agreement had been reached – only to release a second statement, just five hours later, admitting it had not.
The DUP issued its own statement, dismissing the claim of a deal, apparently angry at the attempt to bounce the party into signing up before it was ready.
The extraordinary events can only further weaken Ms May’s position, amid reports of a Cabinet plot to unseat her and the anger of grassroots members.
Meanwhile, the polling company which accurately predicted Friday’s dramatic election results released another poll – putting Labour five points ahead.
The Survation survey, for The Mail on Sunday, also found that 49 per cent of the public want the Prime Minister to resign, while only 38 per cent want her to remain in post.
Downing Street initially said an outline agreement on a "confidence and supply" arrangement had been reached with the DUP which will be put to the Cabinet for discussion on Monday.
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.
“We welcome this commitment, which can provide the stability and certainty the whole country requires as we embark on Brexit and beyond,” No 10 said.
But, within hours, a DUP spokesman flatly contradicted Downing Street, insisting there was no agreement and that the talks would continue this week.
“The talks so far have been positive. Discussions will continue next week to work on the details and to reach agreement on arrangements for the new Parliament,” he said.
No 10 was then, embarrassingly, forced to release a second statement admitting Ms May had merely “spoken with the DUP to discuss finalising a confidence and supply deal when Parliament returns next week”.
In full retreat, it added: “We will welcome any such deal being agreed, as it will provide the stability and certainty the whole country requires as we embark on Brexit and beyond.”
The fiasco can only strengthen the hand of Conservatives manoeuvering to bring down the Prime Minister, after her election failure destroyed her Commons majority.
Sunday papers reported that Boris Johnson was either being encouraged to make a leadership bid in an effort to oust her, or actually preparing one - a claim dismissed as “tripe” by the Foreign Secretary.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to try to bring down the Government by defeating May in Parliament, insisting: “I can still be prime minister.”
Yesterday, Gavin Williamson, the Conservative chief whip, flew to Belfast, pushing for the 10 DUP MPs to enter into a formal coalition agreement to bolster Ms May’s position.
But it was thought the DUP was wary of coalition, given the miserable fate of the Liberal Democrats after entering government with the Conservatives.
Even a looser tie-up with the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage party will worry Tories who fear being tarred by association.
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