End of May? A protester wears a Theresa May mask in London on Friday. More than 600,000 people have signed a petition condemning the proposed alliance. Picture: REUTERS
End of May? A protester wears a Theresa May mask in London on Friday. More than 600,000 people have signed a petition condemning the proposed alliance. Picture: REUTERS

London — British Prime Minister Theresa May suffered a further setback on Sunday in her efforts to stay in power after Dublin warned her plans to form an alliance with a Northern Irish party could upset the fragile peace in the province.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told May that forming a minority government that relied on the support of the hardline Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) could pose a "challenge" to the 1998 Good Friday peace accords.

The future of the proposed alliance had already been thrown into confusion on Saturday after May’s office announced an outline agreement had been struck, only to backtrack and say that talks were continuing..

Kenny had "indicated his concern that nothing should happen to put the Good Friday Agreement at risk and the challenge that this agreement will bring", an Irish government spokesman said.

London’s neutrality is key to the delicate balance of power in Northern Ireland, which was once plagued by violence over Britain’s control of the province.

May responded that the DUP deal "would provide stability and certainty for the UK going forward", her office said.

She is struggling to reassert her authority after losing her parliamentary majority in Thursday’s snap election, days before Brexit talks begin.

The Sunday newspapers carried reports that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was set to launch a bid to oust her, although he dismissed them as "tripe", insisting on Twitter: "I’m backing Theresa May." Former Conservative party leaders have warned that any immediate leadership challenge would be too disruptive, but most commentators believe May cannot survive in the long term.

Former chancellor of the exchaquer George Osborne, whom May sacked after taking office after the Brexit vote last June, said she was now a "dead woman walking".

With the new government set to present its legislative programme to parliament on June19, the clock is ticking on efforts to bolster the Conservatives’ position after they won just 318 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said there had been "very good discussions" so far on how her 10 MPs could support a Conservative minority government, and she would travel to London to meet May on Tuesday.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the government was not looking at a formal coalition but would seek assurances the DUP would vote with May "on the big things" such as the budget, defence issues and Brexit.

He stressed he did not share their ultra-conservative views on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, which have caused disquiet among many Conservatives. More than 600,000 people have signed a petition condemning the proposed alliance, saying it is a "disgusting, desperate attempt to stay in power".

Foster has yet to set out her demands but her party wants an end to prosecutions of British soldiers who fought in Northern Ireland and an easing of restrictions on parades. Any concessions on these points are likely to antagonise the nationalist republican Sinn Fein, with whom the DUP shared power before their government collapsed earlier in 2017 amid a breakdown in trust.

"We will of course act in the national interest and do what is right for the whole of the UK," Foster said.

May has shown little public contrition for the electoral gamble that backfired but was forced to accept the resignations of her two closest aides — reportedly a requirement by cabinet colleagues for allowing her to stay in office.

Fallon said the change in circumstances would require "a more collective approach" in government, but he expected Conservative parliamentarians to "rally behind" May when they meet early next week.

AFP

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