Tories and the DUP reach £1bn deal to prop up minority government


The Democratic Unionist party has agreed to support Theresa May’s minority government through a confidence and supply deal worth more than £1bn in extra funding to Northern Ireland over two years.

Under the terms of the deal, which will ensure the DUP’s support for a vote this week on the Conservatives’ Queen’s speech, the pension triple lock and winter fuel payments will stay in place. Both policies were under threat in the Conservative manifesto.

DUP and Downing Street sources said the deal was worth more than £1bn to Northern Ireland’s block grant – with more flexibility for the devolved government over an additional £500m already committed to the region.

The extra cash will be spent on hospitals, schools and roads in the region, the DUP said. Sources in London pointed to “physical and digital infrastructure”. They stress that the allocation of the extra money depends on who governs at Stormont. If parallel talks lead to power sharing being restored, then the DUP-Sinn Féin coalition could preside over the distribution of the extra money, they say.

The DUP will have no involvement in the UK government’s role in political talks in Northern Ireland.

The agreement, which comes to just three pages, sets out plans for the DUP to support May on the Queen’s speech and any confidence motions, as well as on budgets and tax and spending legislation.

As well as the massive boost in spending on infrastructure, and the decision to stick with the pension and winter fuel policies, the document sets out policy linked to defence spending.

In particular, it confirms a Conservative agreement to meet the Nato commitment of spending 2% of GDP on the armed forces. It sets out that both parties want the armed forces covenant to continue, and will consider options to support the reserve forces in Northern Ireland.

On Brexit, it says agriculture will be a critical policy area in negotiations.

The deal says “both parties will adhere fully to their respective commitments set out in the Belfast agreement and its successors”.

The DUP had been pushing for increased capital spending on health and education, the granting of a special lower corporation tax status for the region and the possible abolition of air passenger duty.

The deal comes just days before May has to put her Queen’s speech – with its heavy focus on Brexit – to a vote in parliament. She will need the support of the 10 DUP MPs to have any chance of getting the legislation through and allowing the Conservatives to govern without a majority.

Speaking at No 10, May said the two sides “share many values in terms of wanting to see prosperity across the UK, the value of the union, the important bond between the different parts of the United Kingdom”.

She added: “We very much want to see that protected and enhanced and we also share the desire to ensure a strong government, able to put through its programme and provide for issues like the Brexit negotiations, but also national security issues.”

Addressing the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, she said: “The agreement we have come to is a very, very good one, and I look forward to working with you.”

Foster said: “We’re delighted that we have reached this agreement, which I think works, obviously, for national stability. In terms of the Northern Ireland executive, of course we are determined to see it back in place as soon as possible as well, because we believe we need a strong voice for Northern Ireland when dealing not least with the Brexit issue.”

She insisted the deal was good for Northern Ireland but also the rest of the UK. However, it is likely to trigger a backlash from other parts of the UK, including Wales, Scotland and English regions that believe they have suffered from underfunding.

The government reached out to devolved leaders as the deal was being published in an attempt to calm any backlash, but failed to stem the anger in Wales.

The first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, described the deal as unacceptable, after meeting with the secretary of state for Wales, Alun Cairns.

He said Cairns had a “duty to fight against this deal and secure additional funding for our country”.

“Today’s deal represents a straight bung to keep a weak prime minister and a faltering government in office,” Jones said.

“This deal flies in the face of that commitment and further weakens the UK, and as currently drafted all but kills the idea of fair funding for the nations and regions. 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.”

He also criticised the DUP for giving the Tories “the go-ahead to legislate how they please on Brexit” – which he said could weaken the devolved administration.

“This is a short-term fix which will have far-reaching and destabilising consequences.”

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford MP accused the Tories of signing a “grubby deal with the DUP” after weeks of back-room negotiations.

“For years the Tories have been cutting budgets and services, but suddenly they have found a magic money tree to help them stay in power,” he said. “The financial aspects of this deal entirely sum up how little the Tories care about Scotland – while a billion pounds is being handed over to Northern Ireland, Scotland is seemingly to be offered little more than scraps from the table.”

He also claimed that the Scotland secretary, David Mundell, had categorically assured the SNP that Scotland would be in line for “Barnett consequentials as a result of the DUP deal”.

“So he has seemingly either been deliberately misleading people, or he is completely out of the loop even in Theresa May’s crumbling government.”

He claimed Scotland’s new Tory MPs had no authority or influence, and hit out at the Tory leader north of the border: “Ruth Davidson said they would stand up for Scotland, but instead they have bowed down to their Westminster bosses and sold Scotland out so they can cling to power.”

Blackford said SNP politicians would demand that Scotland receive its fair share of any funding going to Northern Ireland, and said Scottish Tory MPs should join them.