In Depth

What is a 'confidence and supply' arrangement and how would it work?

We take you through the ins and outs of Theresa May's balancing act with the DUP

Tory Party officials are hammering out the terms of how they will work with the Democratic Unionist Party, a deal described as "confidence and supply" arrangement rather than a formal coalition, the BBC says.  

What is a 'confidence and supply' deal?

It is where a minority government seeks to boost its support by joining hands with another party or parties but in a loose arrangement that falls far short of a firm coalition. The smaller party remains outside government and is not necessarily committed to backing its partner beyond a narrow range of explicit promises.

A confidence and supply deal is "one of the most hand to mouth arrangements a minority government can use to keep it in power", The Guardian says.

When would the smaller party have to support the government?

In the first instance, that smaller party agrees to vote for, or maybe abstain on, the Queen's Speech, which is set out by its larger counterpart.

According to the Daily Mirror, getting the speech passed is perceived as "the first test of a minority or coalition government" and if it is voted down, or passes with amendments, the prime minister must resign.

Assuming this does not happen, the smaller party then generally backs the government on any votes of confidence, as well as supporting votes on budgets and government spending.

"In areas not covered by the agreement, the government still needs to build an issue-by-issue coalition to get business through parliament," says the Institute of Government think-tank, which is why these arrangements can be tricky and exhausting for the main party.

What does the junior partner get in return?

While the smaller party does not usually get any ministerial positions, it can win concessions on policy that otherwise may not even be heard. 

Beyond policies, a frequent issue in confidence and supply government is the smaller party's rights of access to the civil service - a lack of access during the 1977 Lib-Lab Pact was a major issue in the collapse of the agreement.

In New Zealand, where confidence and supply arrangements have occurred since proportional representation was introduced in 1996, the supporting party appears to to lose seats in subsequent elections, perhaps because it is difficult for them to show how they have influenced government policy (as Nick Clegg discovered to his cost in the 2015 election - and that was a full-blown coalition).

"There's not a lot in it for the junior party - and once the agreed parts of their manifesto have been tabled, there's little incentive for them to continue the arrangement", the Mirror says.

In the present situation, the Daily Telegraph says the DUP wants the Tories to water down their social care plans, particularly on pensioners, increase police funding and to block prosecutions of soldiers and police officers involved in the Troubles.  

The Independent also warns the arrangement could endanger Northern Ireland's peace process. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the UK government must demonstrate "rigorous impartiality", but it's unclear how this could work if the Tories are being propped up by the DUP.  

“How can it possibly be neutral when it’s supported by one particular party that could pull the plug on it at any stage?” said Jonathan Powell, chief negotiator on Northern Ireland under Tony Blair.

Added to that are the DUP's social views, including its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, and its scepticism on climate change.

Party leaders say they are only pursuing an economic agenda with May and not a social one. However, many Tories fear that after years of repositioning themselves as socially liberal, an agreement could turn the clock back on their brand.

Can it work?

New Zealand is probably the most functional model: it currently has a confidence and supply government between the National party and the smaller Maori party. 

However, the last confidence and supply agreement in the UK, the Lib-Lab Pact between Jim Callaghan and David Steel, lasted only 18 months, reports the Guardian, not a great bellwether for the current administration.

Meanwhile in Scotland in 2007, the Greens agreed to work with the SNP, but since they were not obliged to support first minister Alex Salmond in a vote of no confidence, the deal fell short of a confidence and supply agreement.

What about the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act?

The 2011 Act made it harder to call a snap election. Either the government must lose a no-confidence motion - from which, in theory, Theresa May would be insulated thanks to the DUP's backing - or two thirds of MPs must vote in favour.


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