The Vote of Confidence: Tory commitment shifts Anglo-Irish balance: Ulster Connection: Major and Unionists deny 'deal' as SDLP threatens to boycott talks on future of the province

ULSTER Unionist MPs said they had won a commitment from the Government to harden its support for the Union in return for their backing in the crucial votes on the Social Chapter and yesterday's confidence motion in the House of Commons.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party reacted angrily by warning it would not return to the inter-party talks until the Government has spelt out its 'deal' with the Unionists.

John Major and the nine Unionist MPs who voted with the Government denied there had been a deal. 'Nothing was asked for, nothing was offered and nothing was given,' the Prime Minister told the Commons.

But ministers confirmed that the balance between the Unionists and the demands of the Dublin government over the Anglo-Irish agreement had swung back in favour of the Unionists.

'The Prime Minister has reasserted his authority over the Northern Ireland Office,' one minister said.

Although there is no detailed package of concessions, the change of tone by London will alarm the Dublin government. Ministers there were guarded in their response, playing down the importance of the Tory-Unionist axis.

Dick Spring, the Foreign Affairs minister, was closely monitoring events in London throughout the day, but stressed that he had no indication of whether an accord had been agreed with the Unionists.

Dublin is now expected to seek a clear statement from London on how it intends to approach the government of Northern Ireland in an effort to glean what an obligation to the Unionists may entail, and whether this may shape British policy over the rest of Mr Major's term of office.

John Taylor, one of the Ulster Unionists who voted for the Government, said: 'It's not a question of pay-back time. It's a question of the Conservative Party and the Unionist Party working more closely with each other to maintain the Union of the United Kingdom.'

The Unionists may get a Commons select committee on Northern Ireland, which could be given powers to review Northern Ireland legislation. That was put on the agenda by Brian Mawhinney, the former Minister of State for Northern Ireland, some years ago. But the prize of a commitment to the Union they believe they have won is potentially more far-reaching.

Hours before Thursday night's votes, David Trimble, one of the Ulster Unionist leaders, held talks lasting 90 minutes with Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Mr Major also telephoned James Molyneaux, leader of the Official Ulster Unionists.

'They can have anything they want, short of the Anglo-Irish agreement, which they know we cannot abandon,' one senior Conservative Party source said.

Before they voted, the Ulster Unionists issued a statement which said: 'Our basic commitment to the Union must take paramount place. The Prime Minister has clearly placed himself in the forefront of the fight for the Union.'

The shift in the Government's attitude was signalled in the days leading up to the vote. Mr Major denounced as a 'betrayal' of the people of Northern Ireland a draft Labour policy paper for the last election raising the possibility of joint Anglo-Irish sovereignty over Ulster under a Labour government.

Sir Patrick then publicly repudiated the idea of joint sovereignty over Ulster when it was floated by Mr Spring at an Anglo-Irish conference in London.

The Unionists claimed that they had been driven into the division lobby with the Government by the policy paper prepared by Kevin McNamara, Labour's spokesman on Northern Ireland.

Mr Taylor said the Labour Party was not prepared to work with the Unionists to strengthen the Union.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own