LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said Sunday talks were still ongoing with the Democratic Unionist Party on seeking its support for a Conservative government after earlier saying an outline agreement had been reached.
May’s Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority in a humiliating election Thursday and now need the support of the 10 MPs from Northern Ireland’s ultra-conservative DUP to pass votes, sparking widespread calls for her to resign.
“The prime minister has tonight spoken with the DUP to discuss finalising a confidence and supply deal when Parliament returns next week,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said, referring to a deal whereby the DUP would support the government but not enter a formal coalition.
“We will welcome any such deal being agreed, as it will provide the stability and certainty the whole country requires as we embark on Brexit and beyond.”
The new statement came after Downing Street earlier said the DUP had agreed to the principles of an outline agreement to support a Conservative government.
The DUP said the “talks so far have been positive,” adding, “Discussions will continue next week to work on the details and to reach agreement on arrangements for the new Parliament.”
There was no mention of what concessions the DUP may have asked for, amid growing concern about the influence of a party opposed to abortion and gay marriage.
The DUP has proved hugely controversial in the past over the homophobic and sectarian views of some of its representatives.
May is struggling to reassert her leadership, having called an election three years early hoping to strengthen her hand going into Brexit negotiations — only to see the gamble backfire spectacularly.
Sunday’s newspapers were unsparing, with The Observer writing, “Discredited, humiliated, diminished. Theresa May has lost credibility and leverage in her party, her country and across Europe.”
The Mail on Sunday reported that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was set to launch a bid to oust May, while the Sunday Times said five cabinet ministers were urging him to do so.
Johnson denied the reports as “tripe” and said, “I am backing Theresa May.”
In the Sunday Mirror, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who scored hefty gains in the election, said there was still a chance for him to be prime minister if May failed to form a government.
“This is still on,” he said, adding he would vote down the government’s programme when it comes before parliament this month.
Earlier on Saturday May lost her two closest aides.
Senior party figures have cautioned against any immediate leadership challenge, saying it would cause only further disruption as Britain prepares to start talks with Brussels as early as June 19.
But media reports suggest they had demanded the departure of May’s joint chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, as the price for allowing the 60-year-old vicar’s daughter to stay in office.
They were replaced by Gavin Barwell, a former housing minister who lost his seat in the election.
‘DUP has got to go’
The resignations of Timothy and Hill, on whom May had been heavily reliant since her previous job at the interior ministry, will be a personal blow.
Timothy—a combative character who one former colleague said had helped create a “toxic” atmosphere at the heart of the government—said he took responsibility for the Conservative manifesto, including a plan for elderly social care that caused a backlash.
May is preparing to name the rest of her cabinet after revealing Friday that her five most senior ministers would stay in their posts.
The Conservatives won 318 out of 650 seats—throwing away a 17-seat majority.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who is gay, was among the first to express disquiet over a deal with the ultra-conservative DUP.
“I sought, and to be fair to the prime minister, received a categoric assurance that in talking to the DUP that there would be no suggestion of any rollback on LGBTI rights in the rest of the UK,” she said.
Several hundred people—many of them Labour voters—protested in central London against the alliance, with chants of “racist, sexist, anti-gay, the DUP has got to go.”
Joining forces with the hardline Protestant party also threatens London’s neutrality in Northern Ireland, which is key to the delicate balance of power in a province once plagued by violence.
On Brexit, the DUP supports leaving the EU but opposes a return to a “hard” border with Ireland—which could happen if May carries through her threat to walk away from the talks rather than accept a “bad deal.”
Her real test is likely to come when MPs vote on her programme after it is outlined in parliament by Queen Elizabeth II on June 19.
May confirmed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call that Britain was ready to begin Brexit negotiations “as planned in the next couple of weeks,” reassuring EU leaders who had expressed doubts after her heavy electoral losses.
European Council President Donald Tusk had warned there was “no time to lose” in starting Brexit talks, after May on March 29 started the two-year countdown to ending Britain’s four-decade membership.