Theresa May sets date for Queen’s speech without a deal with the DUP
Theresa May is pressing ahead with Brexit talks and a Queen’s Speech next week without a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party and despite a rift with Philip Hammond.
After a week of haggling, Mrs May effectively called the DUP’s bluff yesterday, setting a five-day deadline to complete talks over a confidence and supply agreement before presenting her legislative programme on Wednesday.
Downing Street sources acknowledged that there were “differences” between the prime minister and her chancellor over Brexit negotiations. Mr Hammond had been expected to sketch out more detail on where Brexit goes next in his Mansion House speech last night but it was cancelled because of the Grenfell Tower fire.
The chancellor wants to press for Britain to stay inside the customs union despite a decision by Mrs May at the start of the year that Britain would withdraw. Mr Hammond has been discussing a range of options with Cabinet colleagues. A source said that “good progress had been made” but it was unclear if he had secured agreement before the speech was cancelled to change direction on the customs union.
One source said that the DUP was siding with Mrs May, bolstering the case to stick to the original blueprint — outlined in the prime minister’s Lancaster House speech in January — to come out of the customs union.
The Treasury also appeared to have lifted some of its objections to the DUP, with a source stressing that there were lots of ways to inject cash into the region without relying on the Barnett formula, which would involve putting extra sums into the other nations of the United Kingdom.
A senior Conservative source claimed that talks with the DUP were “positive” and that there was “broad agreement” on the principles. These were: delivering Brexit; securing the Union; combating terrorism and spreading prosperity.
The source said that Mrs May was confident that she would get Commons backing for her legislative programme, which usually happens a week after the royal address. That appears to be based on a calculation that Arlene Foster’s DUP will not bring down the government and trigger a second election that could usher Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.
Failure to win a formal deal with the DUP before the Queen’s Speech risks leaving Mrs May dependent on the ten Northern Irish MPs on individual votes, however. Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, is said to be pressing for an agreement to prevent the DUP from holding the government to ransom. The government has not committed to publishing either the details of any agreement with the DUP or its cost to taxpayers.
The Conservative talks with the DUP coincide with last-ditch negotiations to prevent the collapse of the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. Unless agreement is reached between Sinn Fein and the DUP to go back into government at Stormont by June 29, direct rule will have to be imposed from London for the first time in ten years.
Francis Elliott y Sam Coates