DUP deal: What demands Theresa May should expect from the conservative Northern Ireland party

Main focus likely be Brexit, unionism and investment

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The Independent Online

As Arlene Foster prepares for her meeting with Theresa May, the Democratic Unionist Party leader has released few details of her wish list before striking a deal to prop up a Tory Government.

Based on recent manifestos and its "secret list" with the Tories from 2015, though, we can form a pretty good idea of what those aims might be.

On that two-year-old list were more than 40 issues, and abortion and LGBT rights were not included. The socially conservative party's stances against reproductive rights and gay marriage have caused concern, but social issues are mostly devolved to Stormont.

After months of disarray in the region, the DUP is seeking to reform the structure of its government and political process. While it wants more representation in Westminster, including a permanent Northern Ireland secretary in the cabinet, it is also calling for devolution to be respected by London.

Brexit

The pro-Brexit party is aware that 56 per cent of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain, and is campaigning for a so-called “softer Brexit”. That would involve a free trade and customs agreement with the EU, and arrangements to ensure people, trades and services could move around easily. While most agree there must not be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the DUP does not want its customs controls moved to Great Britain as a result.

Friction could arise as Ms May has previously signalled that a hard Brexit is on the cards: she wants to end free movement, leave the customs union, the single market and sign trade deals in other countries. After losing her majority in Parliament, the Prime Minister might be more open to a softer Brexit and toning down the “no deal is better than a bad deal” rhetoric.

Arlene Foster: DUP will enter talks to explore ways it can work with a Conservative government

The Union

Also on that 2015 DUP list were several clear requests, including “no side deals with the Republicans”, which would hinder the Tories from acting as an intermediary for the two sides of Northern Irish politics. 

This theme of “strengthening the union” would be likely to continue in 2017, as the DUP could push for a new definition of a victim which excludes perpetrators killed or injured during violent acts in the Troubles.

The party also supports a Westminster recommendation for a statute of limitations when it comes to prosecuting security force members who served during the conflict.

Questions have already arisen as to whether police and prosecutors are unfairly focusing on actions of state actors during the Troubles rather than members of the paramilitary, which the authorities deny.

The DUP also wants the protection of the law to fly its unionist flag and display its symbols, as well as enforce new laws over how people parade - DUP supporters are calling to re-instate a banned march - and host national events to celebrate the centenary of Northern Ireland and the Battle of the Somme. Whether the region gets to host Armed Forces Day will be a contentious issue. 

Ms May will be conscious not to anger the Republicans, who are already bristling at the DUP deal.

It is unlikely she will succeed in that respect, prompting claims from high-profile figures such as Alastair Campbell that her deal with the DUP could risk the Good Friday Agreement.

Investment

The main focus on the wish list, asides from Brexit, is likely to be promoting Northern Ireland abroad, investing in its infrastructure – the DUP has talked about adapting its schools and hospital for the “21st century” – and may ask for more devolved budgetary control rather than hard cash. 

It is yet to be seen if the Government would be willing to risk jeopardising the Barnett Formula, which sets out how much Westminster spends on the home nations, and any change to that could anger Scotland and Wales.

Tax and pensions

The DUP wishes to scrap the bedroom tax and TV licences, retain the triple lock on pensions and abandon limits for who receives the winter fuel allowance..

Ms May has not indicated she would agree to any of these requests, although the DUP deal could be a chance for the Prime Minister to make several U-turns without admitting they were deeply unpopular during the campaign.

Both parties are agreed on raising the national minimum wage.

Security

In a move likely to please President Donald Trump, the DUP wants to maintain defence spending at 2 per cent of GDP as requested by Nato.

The DUP is keen to enforce tougher vetting of migrants, particularly if they are to receive benefits, a rhetoric which the Tories have also engaged in.

Additional reporting by agencies

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