May meets Northern Irish ‘kingmakers’

British Prime Minister Theresa May has sought to strike a deal with a Northern Irish Protestant party to save her premiership as she came under intense pressure to soften her approach to Brexit days before formal EU divorce talks.


May’s botched election gamble, which saw her lose her parliamentary majority, left her so weakened that supporters of closer ties with the European Union publicly demanded she take a more consensual and business friendly approach to Brexit.

In an attempt to avoid a second election that could deepen the worst political turmoil in Britain since last June’s shock vote to leave the European Union, May apologised to her Conservative Party’s MPs, who said they would leave her in power – for now.

“She said: ‘I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who is going to get us out of it’,” said one Conservative politician who attended Monday’s meeting. “She said she will serve us as long as we want her.”

To stay in government, May must strike a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a small eurosceptic Northern Irish party with 10 parliamentary seats.

DUP leader Arlene Foster arrived for talks with May. She waved but did not say anything as she went into Downing Street. She looked at her watch and ignored a question from a reporter who asked: “What is your price?”

“The deal will be done,” said Jon Tonge, professor of politics at Liverpool University. “Basically it will be Theresa May signing cheques for the foreseeable future or a monthly direct debit, as it were, into Northern Ireland’s coffers.”

But a deal with the DUP would risk destabilising the political balance in Northern Ireland by increasing the influence of pro-British unionists who have struggled for years with Irish Catholic nationalists who want Northern Ireland to join a united Ireland.

While the DUP are deeply eurosceptic, they have baulked at some of the practical implications of a so-call hard Brexit – including a potential loss of a “frictionless border” with the Republic of Ireland – and talks will touch on efforts to minimise the potential damage to Northern Ireland.

During the campaign, May cast herself as the only leader competent enough to navigate the tortuous Brexit negotiations that will shape the future of the United Kingdom and its $US2.5 trillion ($A3.3 trillion) economy.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, which saw its number of parliamentary seats and share of the vote increase, said there could be another election this year or early in 2018 after Thursday’s vote produced no clear winner.

May, who ahead of the June referendum supported remaining in the EU, has promised to start the formal Brexit talks next week.