“The DUP deal is in danger”

As many suspected… Sam McBride in the Newsletter reflects unease at the delay as well as DUP surface optimism that a deal is still on course.  Ken Reid of UTV tweets that a deal this week is unlikely. The delay can hardly be only out of respect for the still unknown number of victims of the Grenfell tower fire, certainly as far as the government is concerned . Mrs May is visiting the tower  today as well as  meeting  five Assembly party leaderships.

The posh London papers reflect a louder chorus of doubts about the wisdom of a DUP deal to keep the minority Conservative government in office. The  problems are as much about the implications of financial matters like scrapping air passenger duty  as they are about the effects on the peace process.

Theresa May  has her work cut out to come away with a positive outcome from today’s  series of  separate talks with the five party leaderships.  I see Nigel  Dodds will represent  the DUP and Arlene has gone home. This must mean  no new important business will be transacted in her absence.

It will be interesting to see what linkage can be established between potential Westminster and Stormont  deals.

.Separate talks  at first suggest long overdue  mutual briefing sessions  for the prime minister but little more  beyond staking out positions. No doubt she will wish to reassure the other parties of the government’s  impartiality under the GFA.

But can she convince them without disclosing in full the deal with the DUP?

Will she  concede the independent chair for the Stormont talks which most of them are demanding and Brokenshire   refused only  days ago?

Might she go even further  and face them with a direct choice between a return to Stormont or direct rule?

The logic of the situation would have been to meet the other parties after the Westminster deal had been struck – unless she’s been willing to be influenced by their predictable doubts about its implications for Stormont as much as Westminster.   The present sequence is a gift to Gerry Adams.  Baffling.

Sam Coates of The Times,  the  political correspondent with probably the best sources in the Conservative party, reports  below the headline “DUP deal in danger”

Theresa May’s hopes of securing the support of the Democratic Unionist Party for her minority government were faltering last night as the Treasury dug in against the costs of a deal.

Some ministers were urging the prime minister to call the Northern Irish party’s bluff as negotiations stalled. Britain’s most senior civil servant, however, told the prime minister that she had little choice but to gain an agreement.

Without a breakthrough soon, the Queen’s Speech, the crucial test of a government’s viability, may have to be put back by a week from the intended date of this Monday to June 26, senior civil service sources said.

…, the Treasury has warned that higher spending in the province must normally go through the Barnett formula, requiring additional funds for England, Wales and Scotland as well. This makes funding projects in Northern Ireland very expensive, since for every £1 spent there, an additional £35 must be found for the other nations. Although the Barnett formula can be worked round — the government once gave funds direct to Glasgow city council — senior officials and Tory politicians warn that this could create imbalances and cause resentment in Scotland and England.

Some members of the government are worried about the consequences for the Conservatives’ reputation of doing a deal with the DUP. They believe that the DUP would never vote to put Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street and that this, along with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, means that they can risk not doing a deal and form a minority government. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, is understood to be strongly against this and is worried that the DUP might abstain in a vote.

Today Mrs May will meet Sinn Fein figures, including Gerry Adams, its leader, as well as the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance Party in separate engagements at Downing Street to address concerns about the consequences for the peace process.

Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party have made clear that James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland secretary, cannot chair the process to restore power-sharing at Stormont because they believe he has a conflict of interest.

From Sebastian Payne in the FT. “No deal is better than a bad deal fore the Tories.”

There is growing disquiet among Conservative MPs that any kind of deal with the DUP will damage the party’s image in England, Scotland and Wales. Wounds are still being licked after the general election result and the Tories are aware of the need to reach out to centre-ground voters. Allying with the DUP could make that task even harder and further retoxify the Tories — as Sir John Major, the former prime minister, has pointed out.

So some Tories have concluded there should not be a deal. Every piece of legislation is going to be subject to haggling and horse-trading, so the argument goes, so tying the parties together in the eyes of voters is unnecessary. Mrs May could instead broker a private deal with the DUP to pass the Queen’s Speech — crucial to gaining confidence for a government — and then strike individual deals with minor parties (such as the Liberal Democrats) to pass other pieces of legislation. If Mrs May’s government makes it through to the autumn, a separate deal could be struck for the Budget.

If Labour attempts to topple the Tory government with a no-confidence vote, the Conservatives would call the DUP’s bluff: do they want to put Jeremy Corbyn, with a record of links with Irish republicans, into Downing Street? It’s hard to see Arlene Foster’s party siding with Labour, which gives the Conservatives some breathing space. It’s clearly anything but a strong and stable situation, but hung parliaments rarely are. But they can last longer than expected and the Conservatives will need to think about how they tackle the next election.


Just when  the massed ranks of  English newcomers to the story think they’ve started to  come to terms with  it,  if they read the Irish Times today, Newton will bamboozle them all over again with ” The next loyalist death lands at Downing St’s door”. They can console themselves by realising that the British government have no more of a clue than they have.

The Democratic Unionist Party has been stung by questions in Britain this week, about its relationship with the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association.

A serious problem during the early years of the peace process was that the DUP did not have close enough links to paramilitaries. It may have exploited loyalists, but it had neither the influence nor the inclination to bring them in from the cold.

The decades since have involved stumbling towards DUP leadership of loyalism by default, with the tacit support of other parties and the authorities. It may be two-faced, and too late, but it is no great mystery to anyone.

So imagine the novelty of finding this a UK-wide story. Something we are used to looking at askance is suddenly in the national spotlight, stripped of all nuance yet replete with detail that even Northern Ireland normally finds arcane.




Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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