In Depth

Tories-DUP agree 'confidence and supply' deal

Theresa May has lifted the pressure on her minority government, but the future is far from certain

After a tense two weeks of negotiation, Theresa May finally struck a power-sharing deal with the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that will help the Tories form a majority government and pass the Queen's Speech on Thursday.

While details have not yet been fully released, the BBC reports the agreement involves £1bn of extra funding to Northern Ireland over the next two years.

Despite the deal, May still faces a difficult week, with daily parliamentary debates over the details of the Queen’s Speech, ongoing Brexit negotiations and the continued fallout over the government’s handling of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Meanwhile, talks to restore power-sharing at Stormont hang in the balance.

So although the Prime Minister has temporarily alleviated the pressure following a catastrophic election campaign that saw the Conservatives throw away a working majority, the question is: for how long?

The Queen’s Speech

With the DUP on board, May is expected to pass her legislative agenda on Thursday. The unionists have agreed to support the government on votes including the Queen's Speech, Brexit and national security. They will also work together on votes of confidence and Budget matters, Sky News reports.

The only conceivable way May could lose on Thursday is if her own party abstains or votes against the legislation. It would only take seven Tory rebels to defeat government legislation, the Huffington Post says.  However, Politico says a rebellion on May’s backbench is unlikely.

James Cleverly, Tory MP for Braintree, said there was a view among backbenchers that being "gobby and rebellious" was not going to make things better.

A more likely scenario is that the Queen's Speech passes, with a slim majority.

The law may also be on the Prime Minister’s side. Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, a parliament runs for five years unless there is a two-thirds majority for an early election or the government loses a vote of no confidence vote and no party can form a new government within 14 days.

The Northern Irish question

One looming obstacle on the horizon could be the talks at Stormont aimed at restoring a power-sharing, cross-community government in Northern Ireland. The parties have until 29 June to reach agreement - the same day as the key Queen's Speech vote in the House of Commons.

Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive fell apart in March and has been without a first and deputy first minister since January, after what the BBC describes as "a bitter row between the DUP and Sinn Fein" over a failed green energy scheme.

Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly has said that while it was his party's intention was to re-establish the agreement, any deal must "be on the basis of integrity and respect" and that a power-sharing arrangement between the DUP and the Tories could have large-scale implications for the Stormont talks, the BBC reports.

Furthermore, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said they were "seriously concerned... given the lack of visibility in terms of the deal that's being negotiated between the DUP and the British government".

He added: "The ability to reach a conclusion to [talks at Stormont] is being greatly hampered by the approach of the British government."

With a short timeframe to examine the Tory-DUP deal, it is unclear whether the Stormont talks will reach a resolution by Thursday. Alliance Party leader Naomi Long this week said there was "Very little evidence of any tangible progress" and that negotiations had been "frustratingly slow".

All the parties involved have been warned that if they cannot come to an agreement before Thursday's deadline, direct rule from the UK could follow.

The Belfast News Letter said it was unlikely that other parties involved in the Stormont talks would agree to finalise any aspect of the negotiations until the Tory-DUP deal was struck. Consequently, they will now be frantically poring over the terms of the deal.

"May does not want Sinn Fein abandoning the Assembly and she certainly doesn’t want direct rule on top of everything else she has to deal with at the moment," adds the paper.

Thursday will almost certainly be the most decisive day of her premiership post-election.

Leverage

Looking ahead, another potential problem for May’s government could be that the DUP has increased leverage in future negotiations and may be able to force further concessions out of the government beyond the £1bn deal announced today.

According to the New Statesman, the Fixed-term Parliament Act "increases the leverage of the DUP – and Labour’s ability to harry the government day-to-day. 

"The DUP can hold the government up, by backing them in confidence votes. But they can also let them down by deserting them on essentially everything else to secure bigger concessions from the Conservative Party."

However, the unionists will want to show some restraint with their newly-found power, as driving too hard a bargain may see a revolt from Tory backbenchers unhappy with some of the Northern Irish party's more hardline policies. If this happens, a no-confidence motion may be tabled from within the government, which would trigger another general election.

For now, however, May appears to have granted herself a stay of execution by accommodating the needs of the DUP into her newly-formed government, but the sustainability of such a deal is by no means guaranteed.

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