The DUP has signed a historic agreement with the Conservative Party to support Theresa May’s government in exchange for £1 billion of new spending in Northern Ireland.
More than a century after the Irish nationalist leader John Redmond held the balance of power at Westminster and used that leverage to press for Irish Home Rule, the DUP used its king-making position to extract major public spending commitments.
Eighteen days after the general election, the DUP’s chief whip, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, and his Tory opposite number, Gavin Williamson, signed the ‘confidence and supply’ deal in Downing Street as Mrs May, Arlene Foster, Damian Green and Nigel Dodds looked on.
The deal does not give the DUP cabinet seats and is far short of the coalition agreement into which David Cameron and Nick Clegg entered in 2010.
Significantly, the DUP chose to focus overwhelmingly on financial commitments rather than on exclusively unionist demands such as on parading legislation.
The deal will include:
:: Money for the York Street Interchange, a major Belfast traffic bottleneck where the Westlink and M2 converge;
:: £150 million fund to upgrade broadband;
:: £200 million for health reform, £50 million for mental health and £100 million for immediate pressures in health and education;
:: The UK-wide retention of the triple-lock on pensions;
:: On top of the £1 billion of new money, relaxed terms on the spending of £500 million already agreed for shared housing and education.
DUP leader Mrs Foster said that the deal would “deliver a stable government in the United Kingdom’s national interest at this vital time” and would be “to the benefit of all of our people”.
There were immediate claims from Labour that the deal undermined the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Referring to that accord, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, told the Commons: “For the government to be putting such an agreement in jeopardy just to prop up this dismal prime minister is nothing short of a disgrace.”
But that criticism was significantly undermined by the Irish government – which alongside London is a co-guarantor of the agreement – that was essentially neutral on the deal, saying it was “primarily a matter for those two parties”. And the Republic’s Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, went on to say that the DUP’s enhanced role in the Brexit process could be beneficial to the Republic.
He said: “An enhanced Northern Ireland voice articulating an agreed devolved government position could see more effective and inclusive representation of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland at Westminster.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also questioned where the money for the additional spending would now be coming from.
For her part, Prime Minister Theresa May said the two parties “share many values” and the agreement was “a very good one”.
Mrs May said that the deal would “enable us to work together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom, give us the certainty we require as we embark on our departure from the European Union, and help us build a stronger and fairer society at home”.
The confidence and supply arrangement will give the DUP considerable freedom outside of the areas which it covers – confidence votes, budgetary votes, Brexit legislation and unspecified legislation on national security – to either negotiate a fresh deal to back the government or to oppose what the prime minister is doing.
The deal covers the five-year duration of the Parliament – if the Tories can survive that long in power – and will involve the creation of a formal DUP-Conservative co-ordination committee chaired by the government.
The agreement document also reiterates the Conservatives’ unionism, something which the party had conspicuously included in its manifesto last month.
The agreement states that the Conservative Party “will never be neutral in expressing its support for the Union” but adding that it would always uphold the consent principle of the Belfast Agreement, allowing the people of Northern Ireland to choose their constitutional position.