A top DUP MP has warned Theresa May his party is “no pushover” amid speculation a deal with the Tories could collapse.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson confirmed the DUP is demanding more cash for Northern Ireland but said reports the figure was as high as £2bn were “nonsense”.
Ahead of a crunch vote on the Queen’s Speech, the DUP’s chief whip at Westminster, insisted the chances of an agreement with the Conservative minority government was “very good”.
But he made no bones that the DUP were driving a hard bargain with the Prime Minister’s negotiators.
Asked on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme when a deal would emerge, he said “the sooner the better”, but added: “I say this about Ulstermen and Ulsterwomen - we’re no pushover.”
Sir Jeffrey said more money for schools and hospitals in Northern Ireland was in play, but claims the DUP was insisting on £1bn for the health service with a further £1bn for infrastructure projects were “wide of the mark”.
He said: “What we are asking for is recognition by the Government that after 30 years of a very violent conflict in Northern Ireland when the capital resources were spent on security - on police stations, fortifications, military establishments - our infrastructure fell well behind the rest of the United Kingdom. So what we are asking for is some help to make up that deficit.”
The detail of any deal will be closely scrutinised by politicians in Scotland and Wales, with the SNP and Plaid Cmyru calling for any uplift in funds for Northern Ireland to be matched across the UK.
Sir Jeffrey hinted the DUP had already secured concessions, with Conservative manifesto pledges to end the triple lock for pensioners and means testing for the winter fuel allowance missing from the Queen’s Speech.
“We are interested in a deal that benefits the UK as a whole,” he said.
“What we certainly don’t want to see is pensioners and the more vulnerable being affected. If what we do benefits people across the United Kingdom then as a unionist party that is something we are proud of.”
The negotiations are being conducted by Gavin Williamson, the chief whip, and Damian Green, May’s First Secretary of State.
Green admitted that a deal may not be struck with the DUP’s ten MPs, saying it was “possible we won’t be able to agree” on a formal arrangement.
He added: “Clearly two political parties, we have some differences but we have a lot in common.”