British Prime Minister Theresa May is close to a deal with a Northern Irish Protestant party to save her premiership, as she confirms Brexit talks will begin next week.
After losing her parliamentary majority in a botched gamble on a snap election, May’s Brexit strategy has become the subject of public debate inside her own party, with calls for her to take a more business-friendly approach.
On Tuesday she held talks with Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, whose eurosceptic Northern Irish party has 10 parliamentary seats and could shore up May’s minority Conservative government.
Earlier, Foster said the talks were going well: “We hope soon to be able to bring this work to a successful conclusion.”
The BBC reported that a deal with the DUP was expected to be signed on Wednesday.
The talks were “productive”, May told a news conference in Paris following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
May made clear the Brexit negotiations would begin next despite uncertainty.
During the campaign, May cast herself as the leader to navigate the negotiations that will shape the future of the UK and its $US2.5 trillion ($A3.3 trillion) economy.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, which saw its number seats and share of the vote increase, said there could be another election this year or early in 2018 after last Thursday’s vote produced no clear winner.
A deal with the DUP also risks destabilising Northern Ireland by increasing the influence of pro-British unionists. They have struggled for years with Irish Catholic nationalists, who want the British province to join a united Ireland.
Former British prime minister John Major said the support of the DUP could pitch the province back into turmoil by persuading ‘hard men’ on both sides of the divide to return to violence.
Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein said the prospect of a British agreement with the DUP was causing anxiety and fear.
While the DUP are deeply eurosceptic, they have baulked at the potential loss of a “frictionless border” with the Republic of Ireland.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the government should put economic growth at the heart of its Brexit strategy, comments placing her in the camp of those advocating a closer trade relationship with the EU, or “soft” Brexit.
May appointed Steve Baker, a prominent Brexit campaigner, to the Department for Exiting the EU.
As European leaders tried to fathom exactly how Britain would begin the negotiations, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble predicted that Britain would regret its departure from the bloc at some point in the future.
Asked about Schaeuble’s comments, Macron said the EU’s door was still open for Britain as long as the negotiations were not finished, but that it would be difficult to reverse course.