British Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives have reached a "broad agreement" with the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her minority government, a source told AFP yesterday after her election fiasco.
The Conservative source said talks with the small Northern Irish party were progressing well ahead of meetings in Downing Street with all of the British province's main political leaders.
Both parties are committed to a strengthening British unity, delivering Brexit, combating terrorism, and delivering prosperity, the source said, adding however that "at the moment there isn't a deal".
The government meanwhile said the state opening of the British parliament -- when May's government presents its legislation programme -- will take place on June 21, two days later than planned.
A Conservative source said this meant the party was "confident" it had enough votes for the programme to be approved, after May suffered a disastrous setback in snap elections a week ago that saw her lose her majority in the 650-seat House of Commons, just ahead of crucial Brexit negotiations with Brussels.
The Conservatives, who have 317 MPs, are looking to strike a deal with the DUP, who have 10.
The prospect of a deal between the two parties has caused disquiet, with the DUP's anti-abortion and gay rights stance in the crosshairs.
Though on the surface, yesterday's meeting with Northern Irish parties is aimed at breaking the logjam in forming a new cross-party regional government in the province, May needs broader acceptance of a Conservative-DUP deal.
And some fear the viability of Northern Ireland's fragile peace -- which has held since 1998 after decades of inter-community violence known as The Troubles -- could rest on the arrangement, with doubts around the UK government's neutrality.
"The main concern is going to be that if there is a Conservative-DUP deal, then can the British government continue to play the role of a honest broker in the restoration of a Northern Ireland executive?" said Simon Usherwood, senior politics lecturer at Surrey University.