It was a long time coming, but the Conservatives have finally struck a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party and the details have been published.
The arrangement commits Arlene Foster’s party to backing the Government on the Queen’s Speech and all confidence and money bills. Going beyond the minimum requirements of a confidence and supply deal the DUP will also back Theresa May on Brexit and security legislation.
Other bills will need to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, which probably explains why the Queen’s Speech was so thin on new domestic legislation. The Tories will understandably want to avoid exposing themselves to more demands for money on top of the £1 billion in new spending, and £500 million in accelerated spending, the DUP have already secured in direct spending.
Beyond that, other commitments included in the text include meeting NATO’s two per cent defence spending target, maintaining the ‘triple lock’ for pensions and an un-means-tested Winter Fuel Allowance, as well as guaranteeing farm subsidies in cash terms for the lifetime of the parliament.
Despite previous talk that the Prime Minister was seeking a full-blown ‘coalition’, the formal organisation required by the deal doesn’t go beyond a “coordination committee”, chaired by the Government. There is also a clear undertaking that the DUP will remain entirely un-involved with Northern Irish issues and that the Secretary of State will not be included in this working arrangement.
After all that, does it buy May the breathing space she needs? Despite committing the DUP to supporting the Government for the lifetime of this Parliament in theory, in practice there are a couple of reasons to suspect that this text, as it stands, is in truth more like a two-year bargain.
For example, all the Northern Irish spending offered to secure the pact will be paid out over the next two years. The document also notes that the “aims, principles, and implementation” of the agreement will be up for review at the end of every parliamentary session – the next of which is, with the scrapping of the 2018 Queen’s Speech, two years away.
As the nature of the relationship is likely to change once the spending commitments are delivered, it looks likely that it will either need to renegotiated in 2019 or the two parties will part ways at the end of the Brexit negotiations.