LONDON (Reuters) - There is a very good chance that British Prime Minister Theresa May will strike a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party by next Thursday to prop up her minority government, a senior DUP lawmaker said on Thursday.
When asked what the chances were of a deal by next Thursday, DUP lawmaker Jeffrey Donaldson, told BBC radio: “I think very good,” adding “the sooner the better”.
After her botched gamble on a June 8 snap election deprived her Conservative Party of a majority in the 650-seat Westminster parliament, May is trying to get the support of the DUP’s 10 lawmakers to avoid a second election.
Since talks began with the DUP almost two weeks ago in the chaos following May’s unexpected loss of her majority, the negotiations have followed an uncertain course with conflicting signals about whether a deal would be struck.
Donaldson, who is helping to lead the detailed talks from the DUP side, told Ireland’s RTE that talks had made progress and that he hoped for a deal before a vote on May’s legislative plan which is due next Thursday.
“They’re (talks) going well, we’ve made progress and I‘m hoping we’ve an agreement before voting on the queen’s speech,” he said.
May, the Conservatives and the DUP have much to lose without a deal: May could be out of a job, the Conservatives could face another election and the DUP would lose their best chance in decades to secure more financing for Northern Ireland.
When asked whether May would still be prime minister at the end of this year, her finance minister Philip Hammond told the BBC: “Yes I do.”
“The prime minister is moving this process, the agreement process, forward,” Donaldson said. “She’s engaged now and we welcome that and I think that since that has happened we have been moving forward.”
Still, there is brinkmanship on both sides.
The DUP, which won 292,316 votes in the election, does not want to sink May’s government because it fears Jeremy Corbyn, who has in the past appeared beside their Irish nationalist opponents Sinn Fein, could get into power.
“I’ll say this about Ulster men and Ulster women, we are no pushover,” he said.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Padraic Halpin, editing by James Davey