Prime Minister Theresa May will push ahead with historic Brexit talks despite lingering uncertainty over the future of her government.
The landmark negotiations will begin on Monday when Brexit secretary David Davis meets European Union representative Michel Barnier in Brussels, almost exactly a year after the UK first voted to leave the EU.
The summit, announced yesterday, marks the start of a critical week for the future of May's government.
The PM has been locked in talks with Northern Irish unionists in the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over forming an informal alliance that would give her the power to pursue her political agenda.
However, a deal has not yet been sealed. As well as fears that it could disrupt peace in Northern Ireland, the Treasury is believed to be concerned over potential costs.
Yesterday, May's officials scheduled the Queen's speech, marking the state opening of parliament, for next Wednesday. This effectively throws down the gauntlet to the DUP to back the Conservative government or run the risk of having Labour's hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn take power.
Irish republican party Sinn Fein added to the pressure on May yesterday. After a day of talks at Number 10 with four other parties from the province, Gerry Adams stood on the steps of Downing Street and questioned whether a deal with the DUP would represent a breach of the Good Friday agreement that secured peace in Northern Ireland.
“We cannot support and we will oppose any deal which undermines the Good Friday agreement,” Adams said. “A little side bargain to keep Theresa May in power, a temporary little arrangement, won't have any integrity, and certainly is not as important as the integrity and the needs of the people who live in Ireland, and particularly those who live in the North of Ireland.”
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The Sinn Fein leader also insisted that all Northern Irish political parties would need to be consulted over a deal.
The future of the Northern Irish Assembly was also discussed at the meeting. It collapsed earlier this year and talks on reforming it have stalled.
Following the meeting, May said: “Speaking with the parties today, it was clear that real progress was made in the last round of discussions and agreement can be reached if there is good will on all sides.
“But time is running short and the parties must come together by the 29 June for the return of a strong voice at Stormont and for a brighter future for everyone in Northern Ireland.”