Theresa May accused of bribing DUP with £1bn deal despite claiming 'there is no magic money tree'

Leaders from across the home nations say agreement could endanger peace in Northern Ireland

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Tuesday 27 June 2017 08:27 BST
Conservative-DUP deal: In 60 seconds

Theresa May stands accused of using at least £1bn of public money to seal a “grubby deal” with Northern Irish unionists that lets her cling on to power.

The cash – branded a “bribe” – helps save Ms May’s premiership following her botched election gamble and was found despite her having claimed during the campaign that there is “no magic money tree”.

But the agreement boosting health, education and infrastructure spending in Northern Ireland, as well potentially handing Belfast new tax-raising powers, faced an immediate UK-wide backlash.

Political leaders from every home nation attacked it, with one branding it a “stitch-up”, another calling it a “shoddy little deal” and others warning it threatened peace in Northern Ireland.

But Ms May insisted the bill – which could rise further – served “the whole United Kingdom”, while her ministers pointed out the full amount of money would only be delivered if Sinn Fein returned to power-sharing in Northern Ireland, breaking a three-month deadlock at Stormont.

Monday’s announcement brought to an end weeks of painstaking talks between the Tories and the DUP, which saw sources in Northern Ireland mocking a lack of negotiating prowess on Ms May’s team.

If the Prime Minister had failed to secure the DUP’s support, she may not have been able to pass a vote approving her legislative agenda, set out in the Queen’s Speech, leading to the likely collapse of her premiership. Combined, the Conservatives and DUP now have a total of 327 MPs, meaning if they all vote together, they have a working majority of 13.

However, as DUP leader Arlene Foster announced the deal in a speech outside 10 Downing Street, the full cost of Ms May’s continued grip on power became clear.

On top of existing spending, taxpayers across the UK will have to fork out an extra £400m for infrastructure in Northern Ireland, £350m more for health and education, another £150m for better broadband and £100m to tackle deprivation.

The cash – equivalent to an extra £537 for every person in Northern Ireland – should in theory secure Ms May’s position for the entire Parliament in Westminster, but there will be ample opportunities for the DUP to up the stakes.

The agreement document makes clear that the “aims, principles and implementation” of the deal will be up for review in 2019. Before then, support for votes on issues going beyond finance, Brexit and security matters, will be dealt with on a “case by case” basis.

A further £500m could also be available to Northern Ireland as the UK Government agreed to loosen spending rules constraining existing money already committed to Belfast.

Former permanent secretary to the Treasury Nick Macpherson branded it “profligacy”, adding on Twitter: “£1bn for Ulster is just a downpayment. DUP will be back for more...again and again... They have previous in such matters.”

Ms May is also being forced to bring forward plans in the next Budget to hand Stormont power to set its own corporation tax rates. There have been widespread calls in Northern Ireland to reduce the province’s corporation tax to 12.5 per cent, in line with the Republic across the border, where many of the world’s biggest companies have chosen to base themselves.

In another humiliation, Ms May was compelled to ditch a string of pledges from her Tory manifesto that the DUP did not like, including proposals to ditch the pensions triple lock and means-test the winter fuel payment.

The deal will be overseen by an all-powerful “co-ordination committee”, chaired by the Government, but not including Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who must be seen to remain politically neutral.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: “The same Conservative Party which spent the recent election campaign saying there was no money available for the crisis in the NHS and schools has now found at least £1bn to buy a parliamentary majority, with some reports suggesting it could be as much as £2bn.”

He added: “Let’s call this grubby deal what it is, this is a straightforward political bribe to desperately prop up Theresa May in office.”

Labour’s leader in Wales Carwyn Jones branded it “a straight bung to keep a weak Prime Minister and a faltering Government in office”, calling it “outrageous that the Prime Minister believes she can secure her own political future by throwing money at Northern Ireland while completely ignoring the rest of the UK”.

Plaid Cymru's leader in Westminster also said any commitments to Northern Ireland should be matched for Wales.

Liberal Democrat outgoing leader Tim Farron said it is a “shoddy little deal”, adding: “The nasty party is back, propped up by the DUP.

“While our schools are crumbling and our NHS is in crisis, Theresa May chooses to throw cash at ten MPs in a grubby attempt to keep her Cabinet squatting in No 10.”

Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon called it a “grubby DUP deal to let [Theresa May] cling to power”.

Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller said that Northern Ireland was continuing to take advantage of its already generous spending terms.

“Even before the extra cash given to Northern Ireland, the province was already benefiting from £11,000 public spending per head of population, compared to just £8,8000 for England – how is this fair,” she told the Guardian.

Attention quickly shifted on to Sinn Fein, whose participation in a power-sharing executive will be a requirement for the new funding to be allocated to Stormont.

The party had previously refused to form an administration with Ms Foster following a row over a botched green energy scheme, but they did not rule out the possibility of a return on Monday evening, even signalling there is a way forward.

Arlene Foster revealing the terms of the deal outside Downing Street
Arlene Foster revealing the terms of the deal outside Downing Street (Getty)

Party president Gerry Adams said: “We may be able to say ‘well done Arlene’, when we have the executive in place.”

He added in a statement: “There is work to be done by the DUP and only limited time to do this…the allocation of additional funds could help to ease the enormous pressure on our public services.

“The devil is in the detail.”

He focused his criticism on arguments that the deal would allow for “continued Tory austerity and cuts to public services” and a “Tory Brexit which threatens the Good Friday Agreement”.

A particular sticking point could be a commitment to ensure the Armed Forces Covenant, which underpins the good treatment of British service personal, is implemented in Northern Ireland.

Mr Adams said: “Sinn Fein will resolutely oppose any attempt to give preferential treatment to British forces, either in terms of legacy or the provision of public services.”

If negotiators in Northern Ireland miss Thursday’s deadline for a new agreement to restore devolved government, they face the prospect of direct rule being reimposed from Westminster, and any additional spending being allocated by the UK Government.

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