Northern Ireland news

Date for Queens speech set but no pact struck yet between DUP and Tories

The deal between Arlene Foster's DUP and Theresa May's Conservatives may not be announced until next week. Picture by Charles McQuillan - WPA Pool /Getty Images
Press Association Political Staff

The State Opening of Parliament by the Queen is to take place on June 21, after being delayed by two days by the inconclusive outcome of last week's General Election. 

It comes as negotiations continue between Theresa May's Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over a deal under which the Northern Irish party could prop up a minority Tory administration. Reports suggest that no deal has yet been agreed despite a date being set for the event.

The new date for the event, which will feature the Queen's Speech setting out the Government's legislative programme for the coming year, was announced by Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom.

Theresa May is "confident" of getting the Queen's Speech through the House of Commons whether or not a deal is reached with the DUP by June 21, according to a senior Conservative source.

The source the talks with the DUP  are "progressing well" and the parties have reached "broad agreement" on the principles of the speech.

But the source confirmed there was no need for a deal on a so-called "confidence and supply" arrangement to be sealed in order to press ahead with the speech, and said Mrs May wanted the British government to "get on with its business".

"Both parties are committed to strengthening the union, combating terrorism, delivering Brexit and delivering prosperity across the whole country.

"However, while talks are ongoing it is important the government gets on with its business and we are confident there will be sufficient support across the House for passing the Queen's Speech."

The decision to announce a new date for the Speech, two days later than its scheduled date of June 19, was made after Mrs May's regular audience with the Queen on Wednesday.

In a statement, Ms Leadsom said: "The Government has agreed with Buckingham Palace that the State Opening of Parliament will take place on 21 June 2017."

The State Opening was initially scheduled for June 19 - the same date when Brexit negotiations were due to begin in Brussels.

It is not yet clear whether the EU withdrawal talks will go ahead on that day, although Brexit Secretary David Davis has said they will start "next week".

Mrs May was holding talks on Thursday with other Northern Ireland political parties amid warnings the expected DUP deal will undermine the peace process.

The Prime Minister was meeting separately with representatives of Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance Party, as well as the DUP, in Downing Street in an attempt to allay growing concerns.

It follows warnings, including from former prime minister Sir John Major, that the Government will compromise its stated impartiality in the province if it enters a confidence and supply deal with the DUP at Westminster.

The nationalist Sinn Fein and SDLP and the cross-community Alliance have all made clear Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire cannot chair the ongoing process to restore power-sharing at Stormont due to the perceived conflict of interest.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement, also referred to as the Belfast Agreement, commits the UK and Irish Governments to demonstrate "rigorous impartiality" in their dealings with the different political traditions in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill said: "I will be making it very clear that any deal between the Tories and the DUP cannot be allowed to undermine the Good Friday and subsequent agreements."

Mr Brokenshire insisted the Government would honour its commitments in the Good Friday Agreement and warned that time was running out if powersharing was to be restored and a return to direct rule from Westminster avoided.

"The UK Government is offering whatever support we can, working alongside the Irish government, as appropriate, honouring our respective commitments in the Belfast Agreement to serve the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland," he said.

"There is very little time left.

"An agreement to restore devolved power-sharing government in Stormont must be reached by the 29 June deadline."

Meanwhile, talks are continuing between the DUP and Conservatives, to secure the support of the DUP's 10 MPs in steering government business, including crucial measures on Brexit, through the Commons.

It is thought an announcement on an agreement will be delayed as a result of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and may not come until next week.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, who met Mrs May in No 10 on Tuesday, is understood to have returned to Northern Ireland leaving her deputy Nigel Dodds to represent the party at Thursday's meeting.

The proposed deal would see the DUP back the Conservatives in votes on the Budget and on any confidence motion while other matters would be negotiated on an issue-by-issue basis.

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