May Seals Billion-Pound Northern Irish Deal to Stay in PowerBy and
Agreement caps 17 days of discussions after election debacle
May’s Tories need DUP support to win key votes in Parliament
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May kept her grip on power by reaching a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, which will support her minority government in key votes in Parliament in return for extra funding for Northern Ireland.
The accord was sealed on Monday morning in London after talks between May and DUP leader Arlene Foster at the premier’s office in Downing Street. It includes a pledge of 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) of additional funding over two years for roads, broadband and healthcare in Northern Ireland. May’s Conservatives will also have to tear up election manifesto commitments to curb increases in pensions and to cut winter fuel payments to pensioners.
“This means the DUP will support the Conservative government on votes on the Queen’s Speech, the budget, and legislation relating to Brexit and national security,” May said in a statement. The agreement “will enable us to work together in the interest 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 so-called confidence-and-supply agreement caps 17 days of discussions after the Conservatives unexpectedly lost their parliamentary majority in this month’s snap election. With May relying on the DUP’s 10 lawmakers to win votes in the House of Commons, talks centered on extra money for Northern Ireland and Brexit plans.
Broadcasters aired footage of Conservative Chief Whip Gavin Williamson and the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, the party’s longest-serving member of Parliament, signing the accord and shaking hands.
Speaking in Downing Street, Foster said government will channel an extra 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) to Northern Ireland over the next two years. May will also abandon Conservative pre-election plans to remove guarantees on the level of state pensions and cut winter-heating subsidies for retirees, she said.
The deal will “deliver a stable government in the United Kingdom’s national interest at this vital time,” Foster said. “In concluding this wide-ranging agreement, we have done so on the basis of advancing the security of our nation, building prosperity for all, and supporting an exit from the European Union that benefits all parts of the United Kingdom.”
‘Magic Money Tree’
Ian Blackford, leader of the Scottish National Party’s 35 members of Parliament, said Scotland should also get its "fair share” of funding and accused May of discovering a “magic money tree” after years of austerity cuts. The main opposition Labour Party questioned the deal and suggested other parts of the country should also benefit from extra funding.
“This Tory-DUP deal is clearly not in the national interest but in May’s party’s interest to help her cling to power,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a statement. “Cuts to vital public services must be halted right across the U.K., not just in Northern Ireland.”
The first test of the agreement will come this week, when votes are due to be held on May’s legislative agenda for the next two years. The Tories and the DUP together have 327 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, while parties opposed to May have 314 seats. The neutral speaker, an independent and seven members of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Fein, who refuse to take their seats, account for the remainder.
Last week, the premier outlined a pared-down program, to which Labour and the Liberal Democrat are proposing amendments. May’s planned legislation includes eight Brexit bills on topics ranging from agriculture and fisheries to nuclear cooperation and immigration.
Later on Monday, May will publish details on how she intends to protect the rights of 3.2 million EU nationals residing in Britain once the U.K. has left the bloc in 2019. She drew a tepid reaction from fellow EU leaders last week when she sketched out the plans at a meeting in Brussels.
In the written accord setting out the Tory-DUP agreement, the parties promised to continue the deal for the full length of the current parliamentary term, which is due to last until 2022. It allows for a review of the aims of the deal at any time by mutual consent, and also at the end of each parliamentary session. The current session is due to last for two years, meaning that the Tory-DUP deal is due to be formally reviewed in 2019.
DUP lawmakers will also support May’s Brexit laws, “in line with the parties’ shared priorities for negotiating a successful exit from the European Union.” The DUP will decide whether to support the Tories on other matters “case by case,” according to the document.
Other provisions include commitment to NATO’s target for defense spending of 2 percent of economic output and support for devolved government in Northern Ireland. There’s also a promise to protect cash funding for farmers until 2022, underlining the importance of agriculture to the Northern Irish economy.
“It’s a very good deal for the DUP. One billion pounds over two years, with the prospect of more cash if the deal is extended,” said University of Liverpool professor Jonathan Tonge, who co-authored a 2014 book on the Northern Irish party. “The Conservatives simply had no choice.”
— With assistance by Dara Doyle, and Kevin Costelloe