So, another big moment in what seems an endless succession of big moments in politics has arrived with the announcement that the Conservatives, who stunningly lost their majority in the recent election, have agreed a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the right-wing Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party.
But what does this actually mean?
What is ‘Confidence and Supply’?
‘Confidence and Supply’ is a deal whereby the DUP agrees to vote for, or possibly abstain from, the vote on the Queen’s Speech (the process by which the government lays out what it’s planning to do in the next Parliament – this happened last week and you can read what was in it here).
With the Conservative seats (317) added to the DUP seats (10), they now have enough to guarantee that the vote will pass (the rest of the seats add up to 323, but Sinn Fein’s 7 MPs do not take their seats, and the speaker does not vote unless in the event of a tie – meaning that they have an effective total of 315. However, once two Labour MPs and one Tory become Deputy Speakers, the effective numbers will be 316 (Tories), 10 (DUP) and 313 (the rest). Still following? Good).
They also agree to support the government on votes of no-confidence in the government or its leadership, if one is tabled. These two parts form the ‘confidence’ side of things.
In terms of ‘supply’, the DUP has agreed to support any bills needed by the government to access money to enact its policies. So they will support, or at least not oppose, any proposed budget.
Both parties have agreed that the deal will last “for the length of the parliament”, although it will be reviewed after each parliamentary session.
How is it different to a coalition?
The DUP will not receive any cabinet positions, in contrast to when the Conservatives formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats and, for example, Nick Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister.
And one more thing...
Technically, this is not a ‘Confidence and Supply’ deal. The DUP have also agreed “to support the government on legislation pertaining to the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union; and legislation pertaining to national security”, thus making it a ‘Confidence and Supply and Security and Brexit’ agreement.
What is the DUP getting out of it?
The DUP leader Arlene Foster announced a series of key measures that the DUP have won in exchange for their support:
Keeping the triple lock for pensions
Keeping winter fuel payments for all pensioners
Keeping defence spending at 2% of GDP
Extending the armed forces covenant to Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland to get an extra £1bn over two years as a result of the deal
Robert Peston has also written that this figure may be an underestimate, saying that, with the impact of extra enterprise zones and the ‘relaxation of restraints’ on existing pots of money, “In total the package of support they’ve won is certainly more than £1.5bn – and possibly as much as the rumoured £2bn they were demanding.”
What does this mean for Northern Ireland?
In the short term: talks in Stormont aimed at restoring power sharing devolved government are imminent and, according to The Guardian’s Henry McDonald, “the additional money for capital spending is an incentive to local politicians to seal their own deal and take full control of how that money is allocated across various devolved ministries like health and education. If they can’t reach a deal by deadline day on Thursday then it will probably be either Northern Ireland civil servants or even London based Tory ministers who will manage the additional spending on a direct rule basis.”
How this could play out on a longer term, read this analysis by Sean O’Neill.
What happens if Theresa May resigns?
Interestingly, the deal has been signed not by May but by the chief whip Gavin Williamson, suggesting that the deal is designed to outlast any change of leader.
What are the reactions to the deal?
While Theresa May say the deal is a “very, very good one”, not many other people share that view.
Carwyn Jones, the Labour Welsh first minister: the deal is “outrageous” and “unacceptable” and it “all but kills the idea of fair funding for the nations and regions”
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader: “this Tory-DUP deal is clearly not in the national interest but in May’s party’s interest to help her cling to power”
Lord Heseltine, former Conservative deputy prime minister: when asked to comment on May’s claim that the deal would provide ‘certainty’ as the UK left the EU, he said, “it’s completely devoid of reality, because there is no such unity on this issue. There is a deeply divided country and every day, either within the cabinet, within the leaders of the industrial world, within the academic world, more and more people realise the consequences [of Brexit]… This does not make the government stronger. It merely exacerbates the divisions that are already there”
Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader: tweeted: “Any sense of fairness sacrificed on the altar of grubby DUP deal to let PM cling to power & Scots Tories influence in No10 shown to be zero”
Alex Wilde, research director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance: “Taxpayers resent politicians cooking up deals behind closed doors that invariably end with their cash being thrown wherever is politically advantageous rather than where it could be best spent. The unfair way in which money is allocated between the home nations has been clear for decades, best illustrated by the significantly higher levels of public spending in Scotland than in considerably poorer parts of England. But until there is a major decentralisation of tax raising powers, Westminster politicians will always have ultimate control of the purse strings and be able to dish out taxpayers’ cash in a way that benefits them more than the general public”
Liz Saville, Westminster leader of Plaid Cymru: “Despite Wales voting overwhelmingly to reject the Conservatives, we seem destined to be governed by the Conservatives once again, propped up by an extreme right-wing party opposed to gay rights, who criminalise women who have an abortion and is supported by armed terror groups. Our country did not vote for this government and Plaid Cymru will oppose this government at every step of the way. Any commitments for Northern Ireland should be matched for Wales. If reports that the DUP has secured a £1bn increase in public spending in Northern Ireland are realised, Wales’ population share would be around £1.7bn – a substantial boost to the Welsh economy that must be delivered”
How long will it last?
The billion pound question. It is likely to last until there is a sticking point, which will be largely down to how far the Tories decide to push it. To begin with, they will likely only put measures through with a broad consensus – beginning, of course, with the dropping of many manifesto promises that were not universally popular in the Queen’s Speech – or that have been agreed with the DUP to reduce the risk of upsetting the DUP and to reduce the risk of any of their own MPs voting against the government. However, what happens when, for example, the issue of a hard border between Southern and Northern Ireland comes up? Or any other measure upon which the DUP is opposed. Also, with each objective that the DUP achieves, there is less incentive for it to keep sticking with the Tories.