A deal between the Democratic Unionist Party and the minority Tory government appeared to be in peril less than 24 hours before the Queen’s Speech.
Reporters in Belfast were quoting DUP sources suggesting the Conservatives are being urged to give a “greater focus” to negotiations between the parties and the DUP could not be “taken for granted”.
However, HuffPost UK understands ministers are confident the Tory programme for government won’t be voted down. The Queen’s Speech must pass parliament for the Government to survive and the DUP’s support is crucial for this to happen.
The Daily Telegraph’s Christopher Hope added a deal was not expected until Thursday at the latest, a day after the Queen comes to Parliament effectively outlining the Government’s priorities for the next parliament.
But despite Theresa May risking having the Queen’s Speech rejected when MPs vote on it, the Government thinks it can avoid catastrophe.
HuffPost UK has been told that Whitehall assumes that the reports coming out of Belfast are an attempt to assure the party’s domestic audience that it will not be rolled over by the Conservatives.
The DUP is seen as having done little to manage expectations in Northern Ireland about the Tory deal and is belatedly attempting to prove to its base that it is playing “hardball” in talks.
By going public there is also a suspicion in Government that the DUP are trying to get Downing Street and the Treasury to finalise the details of the agreement.
Ministers are confident that the DUP will not vote against the Queen’s Speech when it comes before MPs for final approval later this month, and in the process triggering the Fixed Term Parliaments Act that will start the next five-year term.
An agreement is still expected to be made either this week or next week, although sticking points have focused on the Treasury’s insistence on any spending commitments to be fed through the ‘Barnett Formula’ that matches devolved funding in all nations.
The DUP have been holding out for cuts in corporation tax in Northern Ireland to compete with the Republic of Ireland’s lower rate.
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.
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.”