May under pressure to strike deal and soften Brexit stance

British PM meets DUP leader, who says after talks that discussions are going well

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May met the leader of the small Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in a bid to save her government as she came under intense pressure to soften her approach to Brexit days before formal divorce talks with the European Union (EU).

Mrs May and DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose eurosceptic Northern Irish party has 10 parliamentary seats, held more than an hour of talks in Downing Street yesterday.

"We have had some very good discussions again today... and I hope that we can reach a conclusion sooner rather than later," Ms Foster told Sky News.

"It won't surprise anyone that we are talking about matters that pertain of course to the nation generally, bringing stability to the UK government in and around issues around Brexit, obviously around counter-terrorism, and then doing what is right for Northern Ireland in respect of economic matters."

A Downing Street spokesman declined to comment.

A deal with the DUP will give Mrs May's Conservatives the majority they lost in last week's elections. But it also risks destabilising the political balance in Northern Ireland by increasing the influence of pro-British unionists who have struggled for years with Irish Catholic nationalists who want Northern Ireland to join a united Ireland.

Former prime minister John Major said he was concerned a deal with the DUP could thrust the province back towards violence nearly two decades after a peace deal.

"The last thing anybody wishes to see is one or other of the communities so aggrieved that the hard men, who are still there lurking in the corners of the communities, decide that they wish to return to some form of violence," he told BBC radio. "I am concerned about the deal. I am wary about it. I am dubious about it."

Anti-Conservative Party and anti-Democratic Unionist Party demonstrators gathering in Parliament Square in London last week.
Anti-Conservative Party and anti-Democratic Unionist Party demonstrators gathering in Parliament Square in London last week. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

After the meeting with Ms Foster, Mrs May joined MPs in the House of Commons, where opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn arrived to applause from his lawmakers. "It is clear that our country faces some of the greatest challenges of our time," she said.

Mr Corbyn warned against a "coalition of chaos" between the Conservatives and the DUP and said Labour was ready to provide "strong and stable leadership", mocking two slogans used by Mrs May during the campaign.

On Monday, Mrs May apologised to her Conservative MPs, who said they would leave her in power - for now. "She said, 'I am the person who got us into this mess, and I am the one who is going to get us out of it'," said one lawmaker. "She said she will serve us as long as we want her."

Mrs May's botched election gamble has led supporters of closer ties with the EU to publicly demand she take a more consensual and business-friendly approach to Brexit.

With EU divorce talks due next week, she was scheduled to head to France later yesterday to meet President Emmanuel Macron.

Before the election, Mrs May had proposed a clean break from the EU, involving withdrawal from Europe's single market, limits on immigration and a bespoke Customs deal with the EU.

Brexit minister David Davis insisted on Monday that this approach had not changed, but at her meeting with Conservative lawmakers, Mrs May made it clear she would listen to all wings of the party on the issue.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson wants the government to put economic growth at the heart of its Brexit strategy, while some senior ministers pushed for less focus on immigration and more on jobs.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'May under pressure to strike deal and soften Brexit stance'. Print Edition | Subscribe