Britain is in the worst political crisis for at least a generation,...
Theresa May has been accused of giving the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) a £1billion ‘bung’ to keep her in Downing Street, implying (not too subtly) that it was a dodgy deal. Without wanting to defend the Prime Minister out of any sort of partisan loyalty, that accusation reflects a total lack of political realism.
Her fault was calling an unnecessary election and performing so poorly that her party lost its majority. Nevertheless, the Conservatives were the only party that could legitimately form a Government. They hold the most seats, 326 to Labour’s 262. Even if Jeremy Corbyn could have formed a coalition with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the one Green MP, he would still only have had 302 MPs. The bar any potential Government has to pass is 322, given that the Sinn Fein MPs don’t take their seats and the Speaker doesn’t vote.
Whilst May doesn’t immediately need the support of DUP’s ten MPs, their votes on key ‘confidence and supply’ measures may be needed if any of her backbenchers fall sick and miss key votes or attempt to twist Ministerial arms by threatening not to vote unless they were given something they want for their constituencies. One example is a backbencher who wants the route of HS2 changed to meet constituency pressures. By-elections could also whittle down the Government’s tiny majority. So the deal with the DUP makes sense. The alternative is an unstable Government and another election very soon. Given that the Brexit negotiations have just started, that would have been undesirable.
The DUP has agreed for the next two years to support the Government in votes of confidence, which includes the Queen’s speech, and supply business – the Budget and all votes relating to finance and the Estimates. Beyond that they will vote with the Government on matters relating to Brexit, national security and terrorism. On other matters they will decide how they vote on a case by case basis. They were unhappy about the government’s manifesto proposals for cancelling the Pensions triple lock and means testing winter fuel payments so these have been dropped. In return the Government has agreed to accelerate payments of £500 million and invest an additional £1 billion in Northern Ireland.
Predictably, there have been howls of outrage from Welsh and Scottish politicians for this “grubby deal” Carwyn Jones, the Labour Welsh First Minister complained “ It is outrageous that the Prime Minister believes she can secure her own political future by throwing money at Northern Ireland whilst completely ignoring the rest of the UK”. That is blatantly hypocritical. Had Labour been in a position to seek a coalition with the SNP and Plaid Cymru to form a Government, Nicola Sturgeon would have been seeking her own deal in exactly the same way.
A legitimate concern about the DUP deal is that it might jeopardise the restoration of a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland and a return to direct rule from Westminster. The UK Government, together with the Irish Government, are supposed to be neutral umpires in Northern Ireland politics. Sinn Fein says the deal between the Government and DUP makes that impossible. They might be tempted to use it as justification for seeking a referendum on unification with the south. The border between the Republic and the North is a delicate issue in the Brexit negotiations so any uncertainty about it is unhelpful quite apart from a fear of restarting militant action by former IRA terrorists.
The voters cannot know in advance the likely consequences of their choices. Sometimes the results are messy, like the recent election. Christians should understand this and pray for grace and wisdom for their MPs, our nation’s leaders as well as for ourselves.