In Depth

How the DUP could make Theresa May’s job impossible

Northern Irish party is abstaining from votes on crucial legislation in protest at Irish backstop plans

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has fired a warning shot at Theresa May over her draft Brexit deal by pulling its support for the Government’s proposed amendments to the Finance Bill.

The Northern Irish party instead voted for an amendment put forward by Labour, fuelling concerns over the prime minister’s ability to hold on to her governing majority.

The DUP is “furious” over the terms of May’s controversial deal with Brussels, and their decision not to back the Government shows “loudly and clearly, that they are not on board”, says the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.

Following the vote on Monday evening, Sammy Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesperson, told Newsnight: “Since the Government has not honoured its side of the bargain, we tonight tried to spell out some of the consequences of that.”

The party’s members are expected to “flex their muscles” with more abstentions in votes scheduled later today, further weakening the prime minister as she faces a crisis of confidence among her own MPs, Sky News reports.

With the political partnership on such “shaky ground”, as Belfast’s News Letter newspaper puts it, will the DUP be the death of May’s Brexit plans?

Why is the DUP so important?

After losing the Conservative Party’s majority in a snap general election last year, May secured a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the DUP. The unionists agreed to give her a majority in the House of Commons in exchange for almost £2bn of additional funding for Northern Ireland.

What does the DUP want?

DUP leader Arlene Foster warned in June this year that her party would withdraw its support for the Government if it adopted a Brexit deal that sees Northern Ireland treated differently from the rest of the UK.

But while May’s draft deal makes it clear that both the UK and EU want to avoid a “hard border” of physical checks or infrastructure between Northern Ireland and Ireland - a key stumbling block in negotiations - it also makes reference to the possibility of the Government implementing the controversial “backstop” system, should a solution not be found. This would involve special “deeper” customs arrangements for Northern Ireland.

The Guardian notes that the DUP “objects in particular to the Irish backstop”, which it argues “would keep Northern Ireland in the regulatory orbit of the EU – and in a different regime to the rest of the UK”.

What has the DUP said?

The inclusion of the backstop as a possible contingency plan has led the DUP to accuse May of not “keeping her side of the bargain”. The party has now withdrawn the parliamentary support of its ten MPs, leaving the PM without the ability to pass legislation.

Explaining the decision, Wilson said: “The prime minister has undermined her own authority with her own party and with our party by blatantly breaking promises about what she would deliver in the Brexit deal with the European Union.”

Another senior DUP source told the BBC’s Kuenssberg that Conservative MPs “need to realise that their jobs, their majorities, their careers depend on a good working relationship with the DUP and May doesn’t appear to be listening”.

However, the party has also made it clear that this is not the end of the confidence-and-supply agreement.

Will the DUP kill May’s Brexit deal?

With further abstentions likely, it appears that May will struggle to pass her deal through Parliament when it goes to a vote in the coming months.

Asked if his party would make an attempt to bring down May’s government, Wilson stated that the DUP will specifically focus on trying to kill off her draft Brexit deal, Reuters reports.

“All of our efforts are directed along with a large number of Conservative MPs from both the Remain camp and the Leave camp as well as opposition parties to defeat this deal and force a rethink,” he said.

Jon Trickett, Labour’s shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, added: “We no longer have a functioning government. With Brexit only a few months away, something has got to give.”

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