Fragile accord threatened by PM’s plans to form alliance with hardline party in north
British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a further setback in her efforts to stay in power yesterday after Dublin warned that her plans to form an alliance with a Northern Irish party could upset the province’s fragile peace.
In a phone call, Irish premier Enda Kenny told May that forming a minority government reliant on the support of the hardline Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) could pose a challenge to the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.
The future of the proposed alliance had already been thrown into confusion late on Saturday after May’s office announced that an outline agreement had been struck, only to backtrack and say that talks were still ongoing.
“The taoiseach [Kenny] indicated his concern that nothing should happen to put the Good Friday Agreement at risk and the challenge that this agreement will bring,” an Irish government spokesman said.
London’s neutrality is key to the delicate balance of power in Northern Ireland, which was once plagued by violence over Britain’s control of the province.
May responded that the DUP deal would provide stability and certainty for the UK going forward, her office said.
The 60-year-old is struggling to reassert her authority after losing her parliamentary majority in Thursday’s snap election, just days before Brexit talks begin.
The Sunday newspapers carried reports that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was set to launch a bid to oust her, although he insisted on Twitter: “I’m backing Theresa May.”
Former Conservative Party leaders have warned any immediate leadership challenge would be too disruptive, but most commentators believe May cannot survive in the long term.
With the new government set to present its legislative programme to parliament next Monday the clock is ticking on efforts to bolster the Conservatives’ position after they won just 318 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said there had been very good discussions so far on how her 10 MPs could support a Conservative minority government, and she would travel to London to meet May tomorrow.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the government was not looking at a formal coalition but would seek assurances that the DUP would vote with May on the big things, like the budget, defence issues and Brexit.
He said he did not share their ultra-conservative views on issues like abortion and homosexuality, which have caused disquiet among Conservatives.
More than 600 000 people have signed a petition condemning the proposed alliance, calling it a disgusting, desperate attempt to stay in power.
Foster has yet to set out her demands but her party wants an end to prosecutions of British soldiers who fought in Northern Ireland and an easing of restrictions on parades.
Any concessions on these points are likely to antagonise the nationalist republican Sinn Fein, with whom the DUP shared power before their government collapsed earlier this year amid a breakdown in trust.
May has shown little public contrition for the electoral gamble that backfired but was forced to accept the resignations of two close aides – reportedly a requirement by cabinet colleagues for allowing her to stay in office.
May confirmed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday that she was ready to start Brexit talks in the next couple of weeks as planned.
Fallon told the BBC the government wanted a new partnership with Europe.