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Theresa May reaches deal with DUP leader to prop up U.K. government

Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives have agreed to increase spending in Northern Ireland by the equivalent of $1.68 billion Cdn over two years as part of a deal to ensure the support of the province's biggest Protestant party for the minority government.

Democratic Unionist Party Leader Arlene Foster met with May this morning

Prime Minister Theresa May, left, shakes hands with Democratic Unionist Party Leader Arlene Foster outside 10 Downing Street on Monday. The two reached a deal that would secure May's minority government. (Neil Hall/Reuters)

Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives have agreed to increase spending in Northern Ireland by the equivalent of $1.68 billion Cdn over two years as part of a deal to ensure the support of the province's biggest Protestant party for the minority government.

"Today we have reached an agreement with the Conservative Party on support for government in Parliament," Democratic Unionist Party Leader Arlene Foster said from Downing Street in London. "This agreement will operate to deliver a stable government in the United Kingdom's national interest at this vital time.

"Following our discussions, the Conservative Party has recognized the case for higher funding in Northern Ireland, given our unique history and indeed circumstances over recent decades," Foster said. "We welcome this financial support of one billion pounds in the next two years."

May said the DUP would also support the government on votes regarding Brexit, the Queen's speech and the budget.

After May lost her majority in Parliament on June 8 with a failed gamble on a snap election, she worked to secure the backing of the small DUP and its 10 lawmakers, though talks dragged on for more than two weeks.

May laced her deal with an attempt to end Northern Ireland's political crisis by stipulating the money would only be released to a power-sharing executive in Belfast, raising pressure on the DUP to make an agreement with their Catholic nationalist rivals.

"The Conservative Party has recognized the case for higher funding in Northern Ireland given our unique history and circumstances over recent decades," Foster said. "We welcome this new financial support of one billion pounds."

The deal with the DUP, which won 292,316 votes in the election, will run for the life of the current Parliament, expected to end in 2022, but it will be reviewed after each parliamentary session, and most of the funding is due in the first two years.

Even with the agreement, May's position remains insecure, however, with speculation she could face a leadership challenge. Some senior Conservatives have voiced unease at a deal, saying it could put at risk the 1998 peace settlement in Northern Ireland that is known as the Good Friday Agreement.

Uncertainty remains in Northern Ireland

Foster had said a deal with May could help drive a second deal on power sharing in the province. Northern Ireland has been in crisis since Sinn Fein pulled out of government in January, prompting an election in March and a series of missed deadlines to restore the compulsory coalition between Irish Catholic nationalists and pro-British Protestant unionists.

"I will be returning to Northern Ireland to continue our discussions as we attempt to re-establish the Northern Ireland 
Executive," Foster said. "Now more than ever political leaders, both locally and nationally, need to work together to find  solutions for all the people we serve."

The latest deadline set by the British government for the parties in Northern Ireland to reach an agreement is Thursday. 
Sinn Fein said last week that "time was running out" given the lack of knowledge about the impact of any Conservative/DUP deal. 

"Time is running short for the parties to come together and reach agreement to re-establish a power-sharing," May said.  "Northern Ireland needs a functioning devolved government at  this important time."

However, the president of Sinn Fein said Monday's agreement between the DUP and May's government hasn't improved the chances of restoring Northern Ireland's regional government.  

"I think not, no," Gerry Adams said when asked if the deal in London had influenced progress in Belfast to revive the power-sharing executive that collapsed in January. 

"The assembly came down on issues which are mostly rights-based issues. As we stand here today, we are still in that position. If it [the deal with May] empowers the DUP, if it emboldens the DUP then to do what they should be doing then, yes that would be something very, very positive." 

EU citizens won't have to leave

Later Monday, May told European Union citizens who are already living legally in Britain that she wanted them to stay after the country leaves the EU in 2019.

Setting out Britain's plans for immigrants from EU countries, she said that all those legally in Britain before a cut-off date to be decided in future negotiations would be allowed to stay and apply for permanent residence rights.

"I want to completely reassure people that under these plans, no EU citizen currently in the U.K. lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the U.K. leaves the EU. We want you to stay," she told Parliament.

But EU citizens would face similar restrictions to British nationals if they wanted foreign relatives to join them in Britain after it left the EU unless separate rules were negotiated, she added. 

With files from Reuters

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