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DUP reaches 'outline agreement' with Theresa May as talks continue

The Northern Irish DUP party has reached an "outline agreement" and is continuing talks towards supporting a Conservative government. Prime Minister May intends to start Brexit talks "in the next couple of weeks."

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The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is open to supporting a minority government led by British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives, the prime minister's office announced on Saturday.

"We can confirm that the Democratic Unionist Party have agreed to the principles of an outline agreement to support the Conservative government," a spokesman for May said.

"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.

"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 spokeswoman added.

'Confidence and supply'

The DUP said the "talks so far have been positive" and added: "Discussions will continue next week to work on the details and to reach agreement on arrangements for the new Parliament."

According to her office, 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."

Downing Street said that the deal was one of "confidence and supply," meaning the DUP would support the government on key votes with either yea votes or abstention. However, the small regional party would not form part of a coalition government.

This is in contrast to the coalition government formed between the Conservatives under David Cameron and the Liberal Democrats in 2010. 

A courtin' we have gone

May had been courting the support of the DUP after disastrous election result on Thursday left the Conservatives with 318 seats, eight short of the absolute majority needed to form a government. With the 10 DUP MP seats, the Conservatives will now have just enough votes to put them over the threshold.

"We welcome this [DUP] commitment, which can provide the stability and certainty the whole country requires as we embark on Brexit and beyond," a Downing Street spokesman said. The outlined accord "will be put forward for discussion and agreement" at cabinet meeting on Monday, one day before the new parliament is set to met, he added. 

There were no details as to the concessions the Conservatives may have provided to the DUP in order to secure its backing. The archconservative DUP party's staunch opposition to gay marriage and abortion have kicked up controversy among Tory members and supporters.

An online petition at change.org had raised 642,546 signatures by early Sunday, calling on May to resign rather than make a "confidence" deal with the DUP.

Read: Who are the DUP?

Resignations in the May team

Meanwhile, May announced that former housing minister Gavin Barwell would replace Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, her joint chiefs of staff who resigned in the aftermath of Thursday's elections. Senior Conservatives had reportedly made the resignations of Timothy and Hill a condition for supporting the prime minister's leadership in the new government.

Nick Timothy und Fiona Hill

Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill resigned after disastrous election results led to recriminations within the Tory party

The two aides had been blamed for the Conservatives' disastrous result in Thursday's parliamentary elections.

Read more: When European politicians bet big - and lost

"The reason for the disappointing result was not the absence of support for Theresa May and the Conservatives but an unexpected surge in support for Labour," Timothy said in an article published on the ConservativeHome blog.

"I take responsibility for my part in this election campaign, which was the oversight of our policy program. In particular, I regret the decision not to include in the manifesto a ceiling as well as a floor in our proposal to help meet the increasing cost of social care," he added.

Timothy was widely cited as the main proponent among May's aides for a botched plan for elderly social care that caused a major backlash from Conservative supporters.

Cloudy future

May continued to organize her government on Saturday. She said that the most senior Cabinet members would retain their roles, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Treasury chief Philip Hammond. There were media reports that Johnson and other leading party members were weighing party leadership challenges. However, Johnson said he backed May.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times newspaper found 48 percent of people felt May should quit while 38 percent thought she should stay.

Read more: FAQ: The Brexit negotiations

Thursday's election result has cast doubt on Britain's position in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, scheduled to begin on June 19.

May had planned to negotiate for a so-called "hard Brexit," which would see the UK leave the EU's single market for failing to allow freedom of movement. However, her government may lack the support for such an endeavour during negotiations.

EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger said it could be possible to discuss closer ties between Britain and the EU than May had initially planned. "For instance, if London were to stay in the customs union, then it would not have to renegotiate all trade agreements," he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper.

ls/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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