Saturday 23 September 2017

Tories accept Foster's £1bn bill as price of election folly

Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May (L), greets Arlene Foster, the leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party at 10 Downing Street, London. Photo: GETTY
Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May (L), greets Arlene Foster, the leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party at 10 Downing Street, London. Photo: GETTY

Andrew Woodcock

Theresa May has been accused of jeopardising peace in Northern Ireland, after reaching a £1bn (€1.14bn) deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her minority Conservative government.

The deal, struck in 10 Downing Street after negotiations stretching 18 days since the June 8 general election, also saw the Conservatives formally ditch plans to abolish the triple-lock protection for state pensions and to means-test the winter fuel payment.

Under a "confidence and supply" arrangement intended to last until 2022, the DUP guaranteed that its 10 MPs will vote with the government on the Queen's Speech, the budget, and legislation relating to Brexit and national security.

Together with the 317 Tory MPs remaining after Mrs May's disastrous decision to call a snap election, this will enable her to pass the 326 figure required for an absolute majority in the House of Commons.

Speaking after talks in Number 10 with DUP leader Arlene Foster, Mrs May said the two parties "share many values" and that the agreement was "a very good one".

It would, she said, "enable us to work together in the interests of the whole United Kingdom, give us the certainty we require as we embark on our departure from the European Union and help us build a stronger and fairer society at home".

Mrs Foster said she was "delighted" with a package which includes £1bn of new funding for infrastructure and health, along with enhanced flexibility on almost £500m of previously allocated cash.

The cash will go to the Northern Ireland executive if the devolved institutions are restored by the deadline of June 29. If direct rule is reimposed, the money would remain available, but it would be controlled from London.

There were immediate demands for similar largesse for other parts of the UK, with the Welsh executive saying the principality was due almost £1.7bn under the so-called "Barnett formula" which governs how money is distributed between the four nations.

Britain's Labour Party branded the deal "shabby and reckless" and warned that it would undermine the trust in the impartiality of the British government which was vital to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. "For the government to be putting such an agreement in jeopardy just to prop up this dismal prime minister is nothing short of a disgrace," shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the Commons.

In an attempt to allay concerns about the impact on the peace process, the deal makes clear that Conservatives remain committed to the restoration of power-sharing and that the DUP will have "no involvement in the UK government's role in political talks in Northern Ireland".

Sinn Féin said the DUP was effectively supporting continued austerity and cuts, as well as "a blank cheque for a Tory Brexit which threatens the Good Friday Agreement".

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams raised concerns about the commitment contained in the deal for Tories and the DUP to support the implementation of the Armed Forces Covenant throughout the UK.

Sinn Féin will "resolutely oppose" any preferential treatment for British soldiers on services like healthcare, education and housing under the terms of the Covenant, he said.

The agreement will remain in place for the length of this parliament, due to end in 2022, and can be reviewed "by the mutual consent of both parties", the document says.

But Downing Street made clear that the money will not be withdrawn if the DUP fails to live up to voting commitments.

The DUP's support in votes which are not covered by the confidence and supply arrangements will be agreed "on a case-by-case basis".

Irish Independent

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