British Prime Minister Theresa May drew closer to clinching a deal to prop up her minority government on Monday as she prepared to meet the leader of the Northern Irish Protestant party.
After May lost her majority in parliament on June 8 with a failed gamble on a snap election, she is trying to secure the backing of the small Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and its 10 lawmakers, though talks have dragged on for more than two weeks.
DUP leader Arlene Foster, who is due to meet the prime minister in Downing Street at 0930 GMT, said she was hoping to finalise a deal with May’s Conservatives.
“We are close to concluding an appropriate agreement with the Conservative Party to support a minority government on a confidence and supply basis,” Foster, who travelled to London on Sunday, wrote in the Belfast Telegraph.
“It is a massive opportunity, but a responsibility I do not take lightly. We are determined to utilise this position to help deliver stable government in the United Kingdom and address long-standing issues which affect everyone in Northern Ireland.”
A spokesman for the DUP confirmed Foster would meet May at 0930 GMT.
A deal would allow May to pass legislation with the backing of the DUP in the 650-seat parliament, and stay in power as she attempts to negotiate Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Her position remains insecure, however, with speculation she could face a leadership challenge.
Some senior Conservatives have voiced unease at a deal with the DUP, saying it could put at risk the 1998 peace settlement in Northern Ireland, known as the Good Friday Agreement. Foster said a deal with May could help drive a second deal on power sharing in the province.
Northern Ireland has been in crisis since Sinn Fein pulled out of government in January, prompting an election in March and a series of missed deadlines to restore the compulsory coalition between Irish Catholic nationalists and pro-British Protestant unionists.
“I think that this agreement will bring the prospects of doing a deal at (the Belfast parliament) Stormont closer because this will have a positive impact in relation to Northern Ireland,” Foster told Sky, adding that a second deal on power sharing in the province could be reached this week too.
“I very much hope that this week we will be able to conclude on two agreements.”
The latest deadline set by the British government for the parties in Northern Ireland to reach an agreement is Thursday. Sinn Fein said last week that “time was running out” given the lack of knowledge about the impact of any Conservative/DUP deal.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Padraic Halpin and John Stonestreet)