Theresa May has struck a deal with the Democratic Unionists that will allow her to form a government, sources have confirmed.
The prime minister is expected to see the Queen at about 12.30pm on Friday to confirm that a deal is in place.
It follows extensive talks with the DUP late into the night. Party figures say they have been driven on Friday morning by their dismay at the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister.
DUP figures insist their relationship with May’s team has been close since she became prime minister 11 months ago.
A DUP source said: “We want there to be a government. We have worked well with May. The alternative is intolerable. For as long as Corbyn leads Labour, we will ensure there’s a Tory PM.”
There has been no decision as yet on whether there will be a formal coalition between the Conservatives and the DUP or if they will operate on a “confidence and supply” arrangement – whereby the Unionists would support a minority government on vital matters in return for some of their policies being enacted.
“There is no absolute majority, so no danger from the combined opposition,” a source said. It has been reported that the two parties do not believe it necessary to enter a formal coalition to govern.
The DUP’s ‘price’ for propping up a new Tory government will include a promise that there would be no post-Brexit special status for Northern Ireland, the party’s leader in Westminster has confirmed.
Nigel Dodds, re-elected as North Belfast MP, said that among the DUP’s preconditions would be an insistence that there was no separate deal that would effectively keep the region with one foot still inside the EU.
The DUP fears that special status after Brexit – a key demand of Sinn Féin – would de-couple Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.
The party will return to the House of Commons with 10 seats and in all likelihood will only support a Tory administration, Dodds said.
With one eye on the Brexit negotiations that begin within the next 10 to 11 days, Dodds said: “There are special circumstances in Northern Ireland and we will try to make sure these are recognised. As regards demands for special status within the European Union, no. Because that would create tariffs and barriers between Northern Ireland and our single biggest market, which is the rest of the United Kingdom.
“While we will focus on the special circumstances, geography and certain industries of Northern Ireland we will be pressing that home very strongly. Special status, however, within the European Union is a nonsense. Dublin doesn’t support it. Brussels doesn’t support it. The member states of the EU would never dream of it because it would open the door to a Pandora’s box of independence movements of all sorts. The only people who mentioned this are Sinn Féin.”
The DUP backed Brexit in last year’s EU referendum campaign and regards as sacrosanct the overall UK decision to leave.
Sinn Féin have argued that because the Northern Ireland electorate voted by 56% to remain within Europe last year and that the region will be the only one with a post-Brexit land border with the EU, the area should have special designated status.
When asked about what form of deal the DUP would consider, Dodds ruled out taking ministerial seats in a new Conservative-led cabinet. Rather the DUP is likely to back the Tories in confidence motions and support Conservative budgets.
“No, I am not thinking in those terms I have to say,” Dodds said when asked about taking a cabinet seat before joking that he would like to be secretary of state for Northern Ireland.
The North Belfast MP said that “under no circumstances” would the DUP support any alternative coalition led by Jeremy Corbyn given what Dodds called the Labour leader’s record of being pro-Irish republican in the past.
Sinn Féin were the other major winners in the local general election battle, winning seven seats and effectively wiping out their nationalist rivals the SDLP, who lost all three of their Westminster seats.
However, Corbyn will be unable to rely on the support of the seven Sinn Féin MPs as the party will continue its historic policy of boycotting Westminster.
Late on Thursday night, Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, said his MPs would not be going to the House of Commons.
A senior Sinn Féin spokesman later told The Guardian there “wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell” of the party ditching its abstentionism regarding Westminster.