UK election: Deal still not signed

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May
French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo credit: Reuters

British Prime Minister Theresa May is edging closer to clinching a deal to stay in power with the support of Northern Irish kingmakers but faces a battle over Brexit just days before divorce talks are due to begin.

Following a botched gamble on a snap election, Ms May's Conservative Party resumed talks on Wednesday with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on securing the support of its 10 members of parliament to pass legislation.

However, putting the pro-British unionist DUP in a position of influence in London could also undermine the British government's ability, enshrined in a 1998 peace agreement, to function as an impartial broker between Northern Ireland's unionists and its Catholic Irish nationalists.

Meanwhile, a deadly fire at a tower block in London could delay the announcement of any deal to stay in power, the BBC reported.

A senior Conservative Party source said the talks were ongoing. A spokesman for Ms May's Downing Street office refused to discuss the talks.

Even with a deal nearing to secure her government's survival, Ms May is so weakened that her Brexit strategy has become the subject of public debate inside her own party, with two former Prime Ministers urging her to soften her approach.

Ms May has said the divorce talks, likely to be the most complex in Europe since World War II, will begin as planned next week and her Brexit minister, David Davis, said Britain's negotiating position was unchanged.

On Tuesday Ms May, following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, reiterated her government will get on with Brexit and make a success of it.

Mr Macron said the door was still open for Britain to remain in the EU, though he added that it would be difficult to walk back once negotiations start.

Ms May faces the task of satisfying both the pro-European and eurosceptic factions of her party, keeping Northern Ireland calm and negotiating a divorce with 27 other EU members whose combined economic might is more than five times that of Britain.

Ms May has not yet responded to a proposal from some Conservatives for business groups and MPs from all parties to agree a national position on Brexit.

"We would restore faith in politics if we could show that this parliament can at least function in presenting a view in the national interest which would command a majority on a cross-party basis," said veteran pro-European Conservative lawmaker Ken Clarke.

Divisions over Europe helped sink the premierships of Ms May's predecessors Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Cameron, and many of her lawmakers and party members favour a sharp break with the EU.

The performance of the British economy could also influence perceptions: Data on Wednesday showed average weekly pay in the three months to April was down 0.4 percent, year-on-year, in inflation-adjusted terms - the biggest fall since the three months to September 2014.