When the Democratic Unionist Party’s ten MPs rocked up to Westminster after the election, one of them joked that they were “ going shopping”. Since then, we have learned how much they’re walking away with after their shopping spree: £1 billion of extra spending for Northern Ireland. Much of it – £400 million – is earmarked for infrastructure projects, £200 million for improvement of the health service and the rest will go on ultra-fast broadband, tackling deprivation, health and education pressures and mental health services.
Their £1bn haul works out at just over £550 for every person living in Northern Ireland, and will be partially spent through city deals to avoid increasing the block grant and triggering more sums to be paid to Scotland, England and Wales. In exchange for the DUP’s support on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget, national security and Brexit legislation, the Tories will no longer down-grade the triple lock on pensions, nor will they means-test the winter fuel allowance (many Tory MPs like Grant Shapps will be happy to see this). Ministers will also allow the DUP to check and vet laws before they are put to Parliament.
Is the deal worth it? Philip Johnston is sceptical, pointing out that the DUP would have been loathe to help Jeremy Corbyn in any votes. “Mrs May now knows she will certainly win the Queen’s Speech vote on Thursday and has bought herself some time to stabilise her administration,” he writes. “But the voters who are paying for it may well conclude that the price is far too high.” David Cameron has weighed in to support his Downing Street successor, tweeting that “all” Conservatives should support her in her quest to deliver “the most stable govt possible” adding “today’s DUP deal helps that”. Ukip has also endorsed the deal, declaring that £1 billion is a “small price” to pay given the extra certainty it provides to Brexit.
After sealing the deal, confirming that she can command majority support in the Commons, Mrs May fleshed out her offer to EU migrants staying in Britain ahead of Brexit. Relatives of EU migrants will be given permanent residence in the UK as long as they join them before the day Britain leaves the EU, the Prime Minister announced. Spouses, children and even mothers and fathers will be guaranteed “settled status” even if they arrive after the cut-off date, as long as one family member was here before the cut-off date – which has still yet to be determined. This means many more EU migrants than the 3 million currently living in Britain could have the right to do so. Mrs May’s message on announcing her plans was “we want you to stay”, but the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has called for ” more clarity” on her proposals – so this issue is not yet settled.
The DUP deal may not have been cheap for Theresa May, but it will be highly valuable for her over the course of the Brexit negotiations as it is a sign that her Government is not about to collapse overnight. “Brexit makes that all the more vital,” writes academic Tim Bale, “since it involves sending that message both to backbenchers who need to know that there will be no backsliding and EU member states who need to know they’re not wasting their time negotiating with a partner that might suddenly disappear.” The pound rose after the deal was confirmed, which suggests that the markets know as well that Mrs May isn’t going anywhere soon.
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