After the threat of legal action, MPs will now have a vote on the DUP deal—but we must remain watchful. This government likes to flout democratic normsby Gina Miller / September 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
When Theresa May announced she had successfully concluded her deal with the DUP, everyone breathed a hefty sigh of relief—that is to say, everyone on the Conservative and DUP benches did. May had secured herself a working majority in the Commons, and the DUP had got themselves an unexpected seat at the top table. Everyone was very happy.
Fast forward two months and, suddenly, that chorus of mutual back slapping and celebration has disappeared as quickly as the sunshine on a cloudy autumnal day.
Ever since that vainglorious deal was brokered between the PM and Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP, I’ve been pondering how the terms of the deal—specifically, the £1 billion payment to Northern Ireland, which formed the centerpiece of the agreement—would be implemented in a manner that was both accountable and appropriate due to its exceptional nature. Would it be simply “nodded” through buried within other budgetary matters or would it receive proper scrutiny?
Over the summer, I’ve been in regular lawyer-to-lawyer discussions with the government about the proposed basis for approving the £1 billion bung of taxpayers’ cash to the Northern Ireland economy in exchange for the DUP’s votes in the Commons.
I and my legal advisers had been wondering whether the government was intending to use its prerogative powers to make the payment. Little did we expect the government’s legal department to volunteer that the payment would require explicit parliamentary authorisation and, in addition to that, admit no decision had been yet made on timetabling.
As a result of our threatened legal action, it’s now plain for all to see: the government needs parliament’s approval to pay the £1 billion bung to Northern Ireland in order to secure the DUP’s support on crucial Commons votes and financial measures. For the present, it transpires, the DUP’s support is written on the back of an open-ended IOU from the government which, we must assume, the DUP is quietly praying the government will shortly honour.
So the intriguing question now is whether the DUP knew the deal they struck with the government required parliamentary approval and, had they known this back in June, would they have struck the deal on the terms they actually agreed with the Conservatives? It has taken their press office over 24 hours to reply that what I have highlighted is not “new or surprising”—hmmm.
“For the present, the DUP’s support is written on the back of an open-ended IOU”
Who knows? What is interesting is that, as recently as last week, senior DUP members were saying they expected the government to cough up the cash as soon as October. But, yesterday, the DUP had curiously changed its tune and is now saying only that “the package secured by DUP MPs for everyone in Northern Ireland will be delivered.” Spot the deliberate mistake. That’s right—there is now no mention of when.
In fact, one DUP MP, Sammy Wilson, has gone so far as to say that if the extra cash does not appear in the forthcoming Parliamentary Estimates, the “deal is off.”
The government relied on the DUP’s support last night in the crucial Second Reading debate of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. It will do so again, this week, when it changes the rules relating the Bill scrutiny committees in order to get its way on its forthcoming legislative programme.
So, this issue which I have forced into the sunlight also serves as a timely reminder that the Conservatives must quickly provide their parliamentary partner with the reassurance it seeks in relation to the long promised £1 billion.
Provided May seeks proper and timely authorisation of the payment, we will all be satisfied that her government is abiding by the law, recognising the sovereignty of parliament, and being properly transparent and accountable to voters when it comes to how their money is being spent.
But this whole episode speaks of a government that seems to have an inveterate aversion to plain speaking and one that seems all too ready to take short-cuts to achieve the outcomes it desires if it thinks it can get away with it.
That’s not good for our democracy or the rights of voters. I shall be keeping a watchful eye to make sure the government continues to do the right thing by all of us.