Because of the DUP’s pact with the Conservatives, Nationalists chose to believe that the DUP have the Conservative government in their pocket and write off the secretary of state as an impartial mediator. But Sam Coates, the Times correspondent with arguably the closest contacts with the Tories, throws a different light to reveal a much more complicated relationship.
Relations between the DUP and the Tories are under increasing strain amid uncertainty over when the £1 billion promised as part of the confidence and supply deal to keep the Conservatives in power will be delivered.
Only £20 million of the £1 billion from the confidence and supply deal has been transferred, with £30 million rolled over until the next financial year.
(The DUP want) to be able to guarantee when the cash will arrive. Few Tories believe that the DUP will abandon the confidence and supply agreement because it is vehemently opposed to Jeremy Corbyn getting into power. However they do believe that the DUP could apply pressure by using hardline tactics to get its way, since the government depends on its MPs to pass legislation.
Each week, the Tories must negotiate the length of time that the ten DUP MPs are in Westminster and outside of these hours the government could, in theory, be ambushed. “This government only has a majority for 36 hours,” one source said. There is concern that the DUP could team up with opposition MPs and defeat the government over so-called waspi women — a group that wants to rectify an injustice to the pensions of women born in the 1950s. Such a defeat could cost the government several billion pounds and senior DUP figures are aware this could be a strong bargaining tool.
The £1 billion bonanza is bound to feature as an incentive or bargaining chip in the renewed talks. But it’s a tricky one to deploy, as we’ve already seen, after Karen Bradley “clarified” her ad libbed remarks that the dispersal of the extra funding would be conditional on a resumption of Stormont.
Would Sinn Fein spurn the new money in favour of demanding guarantees for an Irish Language Act? Would the British government pluck up courage to disillusion the DUP of their firm conviction that the full amount would be available under direct rule if they think the DUP is cutting up unreasonably in the talks? If there’s absolutely no risk of that happening, why are the DUP flexing their muscle power to Sam Coates and threatening to use it if there’s any backsliding by the government?
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