In the debate on the Queens speech Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader at Westminster gave a broad hint that a confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives will be concluded shortly.
But he also disabused us of any notion that because the DUP favoured a “frictionless” border, it also meant they were supporting a version of a soft Brexit. The DUP is sticking with their hard Brexit. Their reasoning is essentially political, that the absence of customs checks in any form on the island of Ireland would mean customs barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This is anathema to the DUP.
Meanwhile Jeffrey Donaldson has played down the Daily Telegraph report that the DUP were demanding sweeteners of £2 Billion – or was it only £1 billion? “Wide of the mark, ” he says. One big problem at the Westminster end is the Barnett consequentials. If Northern Ireland gets more, more money, it follows that we raise the limits for Scotland Wales and English regions poorer than NI to get more. more money too
The Daily Telegraph had earlier reported that the Democratic Unionist Party broke off talks with Theresa May this week as it told her to spend £2billion in Northern Ireland if she wants the party to prop up her minority Conservative Government.
The DUP demanded the cash – which works out as £1,100 per person in the Province – as talks veered dangerously close to breaking down altogether.
The talks became so strained in the past few days that the DUP negotiators in Belfast refused to pick up the phone to the Prime Minister’s team for 36 hours, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Westminster sources said they now hoped a “confidence and supply” deal could be agreed next week, days before Thursday’s key vote on the Queen’s Speech.
The £2billion demand – with £1billion spent on the National Health Service and £1billion on infrastructure – was made by the DUP this week.
The Telegraph story added the bizarre detail
It came as the DUP team decided not to answer their telephones for 36 hours to the Conservative team .
A source said: “They stopped answering their phones. It went on for 36 hours. Number 10 is putting in calls and they are not answering their phones.”
The concern is that these hard demands for cash will make it harder for the Tories and DUP to work together over the next five years.
The demand could cost the UK taxpayer billions more if any of the cash is judged to trigger spending elsewhere in the UK through the Barnett formula.
Typically £1 spent in the Province would require an additional £35 to be found for Scotland, England and Wales.
Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 News, who’s a rare Westminster journalist taking an interest in Northern Ireland, said he didn’t expect the deal to be completed this week.
Strengthening the Union—our precious Union, as the Prime Minister has rightly called it—must be the overarching aim of this Government. The case for the Union is a positive one. It is one that finds increasing favour in Northern Ireland, across the community divide, as has been illustrated by recent opinion polls and surveys.
The country as a whole has voted for Brexit, and this Parliament must now deliver it. Attempts to undermine or subvert the democratic decision made in the referendum would be catastrophic. We must get on with carrying out the people’s wishes. I welcome the priority that has been given by both the United Kingdom Government and European Union negotiators to finding sensible outcomes to the challenges that face Northern Ireland, particularly the issue of the land frontier with the Irish Republic. That shows, I believe, that despite all the rhetoric, people are up for finding sensible and pragmatic solutions.
We have, of course, heard some debate today about membership of the single market and the customs union, and we have heard talk about special status for Northern Ireland within the European Union.
Let me make this very clear. I believe that when people voted, in the European Union referendum, to leave the European Union, they voted to leave the single market and the customs union, and I believe that Northern Ireland, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, must do likewise. We must not find ourselves allowing borders to be erected between the island of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom; that would be totally unacceptable. We must be imaginative, flexible and pragmatic in ensuring that there is an open border, as frictionless as possible, between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. There are ways—sensible ways that have already been discussed—of ensuring that that can be made to happen, and it is in the interests of the Irish Republic and the European Union, as well as those of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, to make it happen.
The great advantage with which we start is that everyone is saying that—apart from, I have to say, Sinn Féin, which is calling for special status within the EU for Northern Ireland. That has not been adopted or accepted by the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, by any of the parties in the Irish Republic, or by the EU negotiators. Everyone accepts that Northern Ireland’s priorities in relation to the land frontier must also be at the top of the negotiating priorities…
In meeting the challenge of Brexit, how much stronger Northern Ireland would be if we were able to get the Northern Ireland Executive up and running as quickly as possible. If we cannot restore the Executive, we will ensure in the House of Commons, working closely with Ministers, that Northern Ireland’s voice is heard and our interests are protected. What we want is the return of an inclusive Government with everyone involved in drawing up what should happen, together. That makes sense. That is the positive, sensible way forward. It makes no sense for people to say, “We are not going to take our seats at Westminster; we have brought down the Executive, and we are not going to get it up and running again”, and then to complain about what is happening. That is simply not logical.
The economic outlook for Northern Ireland would, of course, be much easier to predict if there were stable government in Belfast, and that doubtless applies here as well. The electorate sent politicians a very clear message about austerity, and since the election it has become clear that they must listen to what the people have said. I must say that I was very taken with the election slogan adopted by the right hon. Member for Wokingham: “Prosperity, not austerity”, and I was glad to hear from the Chancellor at the weekend that he was not deaf to what had been said. For our part, we will again work with the Government over this Parliament to ensure that we deliver prosperity, that we deliver greater spending on health and education, and that we see an end to the dark tunnel of austerity.
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