The Conservatives are not seeking a formal coalition with the DUP but an agreement that the Northern Irish party would support them on “big issues” such as the economy and security, Michael Fallon has said.
The defence secretary rejected the suggestion that an outline deal had already been agreed with the DUP, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr show it cannot be “agreed in a day”. The support of the DUP’s 10 MPs would give the Conservatives a majority on key votes.
Overnight, the government was thrown into confusion after the DUP contradicted a Downing Street statement on Saturday that said a “confidence and supply” agreement had been reached with the DUP and would be put to the cabinet on Monday.
However, the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, contradicted that statement, saying “discussions will continue next week to work on the details and to reach agreement on arrangements for the new parliament”.
Foster told Sky News she was to meet May in London on Tuesday, saying the DUP “will act in the national interest”, adding “we want to do what is right for the whole of the UK”.
However, Fallon said both sides had agreed on the principles of the arrangement, that the DUP would support the government on key economic and security issues.
Fallon was confronted with quotes by DUP politicians on homosexuality, asked if he was also “repulsed by gay people”, as DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr has said.
The defence secretary said his party did not have to agree with the DUP on everything. “Just because they are agreeing to support us on the economic issues and the big security issues facing this country doesn’t mean we agree with them on everything. We don’t agree with all their views,” he said.
“We are not in government with the DUP or in coalition with the DUP. They are going to support us on economic and security issues,” he continued. “We do not agree and we do not have to agree with these social issues and I certainly don’t.
“We’re not changing our views on these social issues. They are going to support us on these very big security issues that face this country. We don’t have to agree with some of the stuff you have read out.”
Fallon said the Tories won the most votes and seats and had the right to form a government. However, he said changes would be made, referring to the resignations of May’s joint chiefs of staff, and that a “more collective approach” had been agreed with cabinet ministers.
“Our view of Brexit I don’t think has changed. We want a partnership with Europe, we want an agreement that maximises our access to the single market, comes to an arrangement on immigration, continues the security cooperation we already have with Europe,” he told BBC television.
Fallon also said he believed there was a majority in parliament for this Brexit plan. “Everybody wants to see an agreement in the end that does respect what the British people voted for last year,” he said.
The Observer reported that the DUP was seeking to avoid any inclusion of controversial social policies, such as opposition to gay marriage or abortion, in its demands to the Tories, concentrating instead on commitments to no Irish unity referendum and no hard border imposed on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
DUP sources told the paper its list of demands would be similar to its 2015 “Northern Ireland” plan, when the party laid out its price for supporting either a minority Tory or Labour administration, including more funding for Northern Ireland’s schools and hospitals and at least a 50% cut or the total abolition of air passenger duty in Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, has denied that he is manoeuvring to oust May. Reports in the Mail on Sunday suggested the foreign secretary was already positioning himself as the successor to May; but he tweeted that the story was “tripe”.
A source said he had received a series of text messages from colleagues, including several from cabinet ministers, asking him to consider mounting a leadership bid; but he had replied to them all urging loyalty to the prime minister and saying a challenge would be destabilising.