Theresa May’s hopes of a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to shore up her minority government have hit a setback, as the Northern Irish party warned a deal was “certainly not imminent”.
A DUP source told the Press Association that talks with Mrs May’s Conservatives “haven’t proceeded in a way that the DUP would have expected” and cautioned that the party “can’t be taken for granted”.
The development came just a day ahead of the Queen’s Speech, and threatens to leave Mrs May uncertain of her ability to secure a Commons majority for her Government’s legislative programme for the coming two years.
But the source said agreement before Wednesday’s State Opening of Parliament could not entirely be ruled out if there was movement in the talks between the parties.
The DUP is urging the Government to give “greater focus” to the negotiations.
A Conservative source said: “Talks are ongoing with the DUP and we continue to work towards a confidence and supply arrangement.
“As we have said, both parties are committed to strengthening the Union, combating terrorism, delivering Brexit and delivering prosperity across the whole United Kingdom.
“While our discussions continue it is important the Government gets on with its business.
“That is why we are putting forward a Queen’s Speech which the whole House of Commons can get behind: securing a Brexit deal that works for every part of our country, strengthening our economy, making our society fairer, and keeping our country safe.”
The source declined to discuss BBC reports that a deal could be reached as early as Thursday.
Mrs May was forced to seek support from other parties after the snap election on June 8 left her nine MPs short of an overall majority in the House of Commons.
Speaking outside Downing Street the day after the poll, the PM said that she would “continue to work with our friends and allies in the Democratic Unionist Party” to ensure she was able to command a majority to get her legislation through.
She made clear she was not offering a full coalition with ministerial jobs for DUP MPs, but was seeking a “confidence and supply” arrangement, under which the smaller party would remain outside Government but would ensure its survival by supporting it on financial measures and no-confidence votes.
After initial signs of progress, the Conservatives were forced to row back on a premature announcement that agreement had been reached, and talks have now dragged on for 11 days without reaching a conclusion.
It is thought the DUP is asking for more investment for Northern Ireland as part of the price of its support, and the party also wants the retention of the triple lock guarantee on pensions and winter fuel allowances for older people.
Arlene Foster’s party backs Brexit, but wants to avoid any disruption to movements across the border with the Irish Republic.
Mrs May has rejected claims a deal with the DUP would undermine the Government’s ability to act as an honest broker in talks on the restoration of devolved institutions and power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake 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. It’s time for the Conservatives to come clean and tell us: Is no deal better than a bad deal?
“Theresa May has no mandate for the direction she is taking the country. 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.”