Getty
Show Hide image

The DUP opposing the government is a blow to Theresa May’s reputation

The Tories’ parliamentary allies will vote with Labour on NHS pay and tuition fees.

The pitfalls of the Tories’ confidence-and-supply agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party are now clear. The latter, who Theresa May paid £1.5bn to be her parliamentary allies when she lost her majority in June’s election, will be voting against the government this afternoon.

The DUP will join Labour in opposing the government in two opposition day debates today, on NHS pay and tuition fees.

The Prime Minister’s partners aren’t breaking any rules. As is clear from the terms of their pact, the DUP only need back the Tories on the Queen’s Speech, Brexit legislation, questions of national security, budgets and confidence votes. Basically, votes that could result in the government falling if defeated.

Opposition day votes on the subject of the health service and higher education aren’t part of this, so there’s no official betrayal going on here. As my colleague Stephen pointed out when the deal was being negotiated, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act’s narrow definition of confidence votes makes it far easier for the government’s confidence-and-supply partner to defy it.

Now that it’s happening, we see how this weakness will result in repeated blows to the government’s reputation. First, failing to guide their allies through the lobby alongside them – whatever the vote – exposes the Tories’ diplomatic shortcomings. And second, opposition from the DUP will always act as a reminder of their precarious hold on power. Yes, they’re being propped up – but their crutch is not necessarily a sturdy one, and can be borrowed by the Labour party at any time to beat them with.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Why is the government's Brexit approach so inconsistent?

It's her own time – and the United Kingdom's – that Theresa May is wasting.

Life comes at you fast. Just a fortnight ago, defenestrated Downing Street aide Nick Timothy wrote in his Telegraph column that "despite briefings that suggest otherwise, there is agreement in government about the Brexit strategy". 

This week, we're all at risk of a bad deal because Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond are at odds with the government's approach, says Nick Timothy in his Telegraph column. "Treasury 'talking down Brexit'" is their splash. 

At this rate we can look forward to a column from Timothy explaining why he backed a Remain vote on 23 June 2016 early in the New Year. The inconsistency and essential lack of seriousness typifies the government and his former boss's overall approach to Brexit.

Downing Street is hoping to keep a tight lid on what's in the speech but speculation is everywhere. In the Times, Sam Coates and Bruno Waterfield say that the PM will try to go over Michel Barnier's head to get a breakthrough in the talks. The flaw in this approach isn't that the EU's sequencing of talks between the first stage and the second doesn't create problems. It does, particularly as far as the Irish border is concerned. It's that Barnier's mandate already comes from the heads of member states, and while there are potential areas where the EU27's unity might be tested, on the issues currently holding up the talks – money and citizens' rights – there isn't a divide to be exploited. It's her own time – and the United Kingdom's – that Theresa May is wasting.

But as with Timothy's somewhat confused oeuvre, the underlying reason for both his contradictions and May's blind alleys over Brexit is that most of the government treats Brexit as a secondary concern, to either easing their path to Downing Street or taking revenge on those who helped chuck them out of it. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.