Is £1bn Enough to Save Theresa May?
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Tory government agreed on a confidence and supply deal to support Theresa May’s minority government. Northern Ireland will get an extra £1bn in the following two years as part of a confidence and supply deal. The DUP will also offer much-needed support to the Queen’s speech, when MPs vote in the parliament this week.
While the deal brings to an end, weeks of negotiations and offers important support to May’s government, it has been described by politicians as a “grubby” deal and a “short-term fix which will have far-reaching and destabilising consequences.” The fact that a billion of pounds have been given to Northern Ireland has drawn the ire of political parties and the devolved nations which said that Downing Street’s arrangement with the DUP undermined the support to the rest of the UK. The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused the Tories of cutting budgets but “suddenly…[finding] a magic money tree to help them stay in power.”
A very, very good deal
During their meeting at 10 Downing Street, Theresa May’s team consisted of the first secretary of state, Damian Green, and the government chief whip, Gavin Williamson. The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, was accompanied by her Westminster leader Nigel Dodds and Chief whip Jeffrey Donaldson.
May was happy about the “very, very good” deal. Talking to the DUP, she said: “As we set out at the beginning of the talks, we share many values in terms of wanting to see prosperity across the UK, the value of the union, the important bond between the different parts of the United Kingdom. We very much want to see that protected and enhanced and we also share the desire to ensure a strong government, able to put through its programme and provide for issues like the Brexit negotiations, but also national security issues. So, the agreement we have come to is a very, very good one, and look forward to working with you.”
Arlene Foster said: “We’re delighted that we have reached this agreement, which I think works, obviously, for national stability. In terms of the Northern Ireland executive, of course we are determined to see it back in place as soon as possible as well, because we believe we need a strong voice for Northern Ireland when dealing not least with the Brexit issue.”
Arlene Foster speech
After signing the deal, the two leaders spoke outside Number 10. Arlene Foster explained that the two parties focussed on improving prosperity, strengthening the UK and working together to facilitate Brexit. She said that they agreed on keeping the triple lock for pensions, keeping winter fuel payments for all pensioners, defence spending at 2% of GDP and extending the armed forces covenant to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will get £1bn extra over the next two years and, in terms of the already given financial support of £500m, she clarified that there will be “new flexibilities” on how that amount will be spent.
Theresa May’s statement
In her statement, May said that the government reached a confidence and supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist party. This meant, that “the DUP will support the Conservative government on votes on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget, and legislation relating to Brexit and national security.”
She pointed out that the agreement will offer certainty “as we embark on our departure from the European Union, and help us build a stronger and fairer society at home. In the interests of transparency, the full terms of this agreement have been published.”
The confidence and supply agreement, dictates that the DUP agrees to support the government on motions of confidence—vote on a major piece of legislation—“on the Queen’s speech, the budget, finance bills, money bills, supply and appropriation legislation and Estimates.” The DUP has also committed to supporting the government on legislation relating to security and Brexit.
According to the Guardian, the deal is not so much a confidence and supply deal but a “confidence/supply/Brexit/security” deal.
In the case of the extra £1bn in spending, this will be used as follows: an extra £400m for infrastructure over two years; an extra £150m for broadband over two years; an extra £100m over two years for health and education; an extra £200m over two years for health service transformation; an extra £100m over five years to tackle deprivation; an extra £50m over five years for mental health.
While the agreement says that the deal will last for the length of the parliament, the fact that most of the allocated funds are to be spent within the next two years, shows that the deal will possibly last for the next two years and until the Brexit negotiations are over.
Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones, criticised the deal as “outrageous” and “unacceptable”: “Today’s deal represents a straight bung to keep a weak prime minister and a faltering government in office. Only last week we were told that the priority was to ‘build a more united country, strengthening the social, economic and cultural bonds between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.’ This deal flies in the face of that commitment and further weakens the UK, and as currently drafted all but kills the idea of fair funding for the nations and regions. It is outrageous that the prime minister believes she can secure her own political future by throwing money at Northern Ireland whilst completely ignoring the rest of the UK. I have spoken to the secretary of state for Wales this morning to clearly state my view at this unacceptable deal – as Wales’ voice at the cabinet table, he has a duty to fight against this deal and secure additional funding for our country.”
Jeremy Corbyn was also critical of the government’s financial commitment to the DUP. He, like Scottish and Welsh politicians, highlighted the government’s austerity policies and how these needed to be stopped in all parts of the UK and not just in Northern Ireland. He also said that “The government must immediately answer two questions. Where is the money for the Tory-DUP deal coming from? And, will all parts of the UK receive the much needed additional funding that Northern Ireland will get as part of the deal? This Tory-DUP deal is clearly not in the national interest but in May’s party’s interest to help her cling to power.”
Political commentators had less to say about the special treatment of the DUP, and more about Theresa May’s precarious position. ITV’s political editor Robert Peston said that the Tory-DUP deal will offer stability to the government but it won’t guarantee Theresa May’s position: “So for two years at least the government should be a bit more stable, if not exactly strong, as a result of the alliance with the DUP. But that does not mean T May will survive as Tory leader or PM for that period, or that the DUP would hope and expect her to do so. Because what is very striking is that she has not signed the agreement with the DUP. It’s been signed by her chief whip Gavin Williamson. Which implies that the pact could survive her resignation or eviction.”
One of the most respected Tory politicians, the former deputy PM, Lord Heseltine, said that the deal doesn’t provide certainty but “exacerbates the divisions that are already there,” since the whole country is realising every day the insecurities and consequences of Brexit.
For others, the deal shows the mutual agreement between soul mates, who would now seek to define the horizon of Brexit. In a comical Evening Standard cover article, former Chancellor George Osborne chose the image of Arlene Foster as Dr Evil and Theresa May as Mini Me with the headline “I demand the sum of one billion pounds.” Perhaps this deal was always meant to be. As Dr Evil says to his Mini Me: “Mini Me, you complete me.”