Ulster Party's Price for Support in 2015: 1 Billion Pounds

  • History of previous election shows party had ‘shopping list’
  • Wanted lower corporation tax and more infrastructure cash

May Seen to Pay High Price for DUP's Brexit Support

What will Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party ask Theresa May for in return for supporting her as U.K. prime minister? According to those who discussed the outlines of a possible deal with it two years ago, the answer is cash: 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion).

There has been criticism of May for seeking a deal with a minor party that opposes gay marriage and doesn’t view climate change as a priority. She was meeting its leader, Arlene Foster, in London on Tuesday. A Brexit that protects Northern Irish businesses is likely to be a key concern.

Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds arrive at 10 Downing Street, June 13.

Phototrapher: Luke McGregor/Bloomberg

The DUP’s manifesto suggests Foster will focus on a company-tax rate of 12.5 percent -- the same level as in the Republic of Ireland -- or lower. and more bus lanes in Belfast for starters. But in 2015, just as today, the DUP’s main priority from the U.K. was getting a lot of money. 

Ahead of that year’s election, the opposition Labour Party expected that it would gain seats but fall short of a majority, and so began exploratory talks with parties that might be prepared to support it. The talks with the DUP were straightforward, according to “The British General Election of 2015.”

Read about how Ireland’s border became a bigger Brexit issue

The book cited an unnamed person as saying that in March of that year, the DUP was unambiguous, producing what he called “a shopping list” with “the prices marked up.”

That month, the predominantly Protestant DUP published “The Northern Ireland Plan,” which it described as “our key priorities for discussion with the parties which could form the next government.” Some of these demands were to do with its political opponents in Northern Ireland. For example, a ban on allowances for lawmakers who don’t take up their seats in the U.K. Parliament can only refer to the nationalists Sinn Fein, as can a ban on political donations from abroad.

But at the top of the list there are two key items in terms of money: the reduction in business tax for the province and “increased infrastructure investment.” What does that mean? The Labour figure told the authors of the book that there were a lot of roads that needed fixing around Belfast.

Northern Ireland will receive 10.9 billion pounds from the Treasury this year, with 1 billion pounds of that earmarked for capital spending. For a population of 1.85 million, overall expenditure equates to almost 5,900 pounds a head.

Although May needs a deal with the DUP, she is also likely to be the party’s preferred prime minister. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was close to Irish Republican Army supporters during the 1980s and 1990s. That makes it hard for Foster to support him.

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