Up to a billion victims’ compensation and Irish border talks from tomorrow. Leaks on the DUP deal

The Sun has run a couple of “scoops” about a DUP deal that will cause more than a flicker of interest if true. To me they read like Downing St  blandishments  to the DUP to fulfil their part of the bargain and confirm  wider  support for the government  than for Wednesday’s vote on the Queen’s Speech. Whether the now all-powerful Chancellor will sign off on shaking the  money tree quite so hard for the sake of the  deal to consolidate the Conservatives in  office is a different question.

BRITAIN chalked up its first victory in its battle for a decent Brexit deal – hours before crunch talks begin.

EU chiefs caved in to David Davis’s demands that the Northern Ireland border is made a priority issue.

They had insisted on holding it back as a bargaining chip for later on in the negotiations.

But the Brexit Secretary backed them into a corner and they have now agreed it will be up for discussion when talks kick off tomorrow.

David Davis is keen for a deal that avoids a return to checkpoints along the 310-mile border between the north and the Irish Republic.

he European Commission were desperate to keep it off the table because it would involve discussions on trade and customs.

But a last-ditch climbdown means it will top the agenda along with the divorce bill and the rights of EU and British citizens after Brexit.

A Whitehall source said last night: “This is a clear sign that the Commission has caved in to our highly determined negotiators who have been supported throughout by the Irish.

“The Prime Minister has always been clear that this was an early priority for us from the start so we’ve made this a red-line issue for us in preparing for this negotiation.”

The Irish border was of course already an EU priority so it’s not clear how much of  a promotion this means

But today’ Sun “Exclusive” while very welcome to many would be a whole more controversial as it appears to breach Sinn Fein’s stand on “ no hierarchy of victims” for extra compensation

VICTIMS of IRA terror attacks could get millions of pounds in compensation as part of a deal to keep Theresa May in power.

The PM is being urged to fork out up to £1billion in return for Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party propping her up. At least 300 families of people killed or maimed in Libyan-sponsored atrocities have been denied justice – despite millions being handed to American, French and German victims.

But DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds is demanding a pledge that payouts will be made within two years if his MPs agree to vote with the Tories.

One reason for the delay in Mrs May winning the party’s support is down to efforts to thrash out a compensation plan.

.  Bob Fisk  who  forty-odd years ago was the Times’ excellent correspondent in Belfast and is now the Cassandra of Middle East politics for the Independent relies more on his knowledge of the old days and Irish history to attack the DUP deal, based on cynicism on both sides. Like so many he’s transfixed by the DUP’s poor image of unionist populism and conservative social opinions.   You grasp his point  about the DUPs’ terrible image but Fisk’s denunciation doesn’t show much knowledge of what’s actually going on here. If he took the trouble to read the Irish News and  the Guardian -no  fans of the DUP —, a DUP deal at Westminster looks like putting pressure on Sinn Fein to return to Stormont and  further stem austerity in a way Labour would love but haven’t the clout to achieve.  Remarkably Fisk’s analysis leaves out entirely what’s been going on in power sharing for almost 20 years.

In parliament, May will have to justify her alliance with this disreputable crew – and put the Good Friday agreement in serious danger – by reminding us of the fruits of Ulster’s “loyalty” (I suspect we may have Belfast’s patriotism in the Second World War trotted out). It will be a sorry business, lasting only so long as Arlene Foster and her Protestant party can be of use to her.

The Catholics of Northern Ireland will have no say in this. They chose abstentionism and thus cut themselves out of the parliamentary debates. But who in Sinn Fein would ever vote for May’s Government? It’s going to be cash for the province’s Democratic Unionists all the way.

“The Catholics” may not hold the initiative   for a moment  but they will have plenty of “say” on the distribution of goodies if they return to the Assembly.

 Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times,  who’s a rare dipper into our affairs and  is much happier with Tory austerity politics, gives the DUP  grudging credit for leading a race to abandon austerity. Sinn Fein readers please note how  the DUP are coming close to their view of welfare  when they deadlocked the Assembly on welfare reform for a year – even though this aspect of austerity was itself  mitigated.

There are no more successful shakers of the magic money tree than Northern Ireland’s politicians. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics last month showed that while Scotland consumed £2,824 more in public expenditure per capita than it raised in taxes — a source of irritation to the English — the average inhabitant of Northern Ireland consumed £5,437 more public money than they paid in taxes. There has been a payment from London to Ulster of about £10bn in each of the past three years, slightly more than the UK as a whole has been paying — net — to the EU.

Obviously, the latter is to foreign countries, while the colossal transfers across the Irish Sea are to poorer fellow countrymen and women, with all the demands of solidarity that status entails. But it is quite a racket.

Nicholas Macpherson, the permanent secretary to the Treasury under three chancellors (Messrs Brown, Darling and Osborne). He criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s remark that people “have had quite enough of austerity politics” and explained that Osborne’s “trick” as chancellor was “to talk tough while putting into practice a programme which was admirably pragmatic and flexible . . . Whereas Ireland managed to reduce its gross public debt from 86% to 75% of national income between 2010 and 2016, Britain’s public debt carried on rising: from 76% to 89%. In short, Britain never experienced austerity.”

Few want to hear that now. They certainly didn’t want to hear Mrs May tell us that better-off pensioners should do their bit to reduce the deficit (the government is still spending £1bn a week more than it raises in taxes). The Conservative election manifesto is now less relevant than that of the DUP. The triple lock on pensions will stay. The winter fuel allowance will not be means-tested.

It seems  soft austerity of the sort approved by the DUP is one of the reasons  the DUP deal is being held up by the Treasury In interviews today the Chancellor Phillip Hammond was reluctant to shake the magic money  tree too hard.

The chancellor said he had already “created more flexibility” by loosening George Osborne’s deficit-reduction target.

He said he understood people were tired of the “long slog” of spending cuts, but added: “We have to live within our means and more borrowing… is not the solution.”

“We have never said we won’t raise some taxes,” he said, but added that overall the government wanted to keep them low.

The government’s plan remained to clear the deficit by the middle of the next Parliament “in a way that’s sensitive to the needs of the economy”,

 

 

 

 

 

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