A week after Theresa May promised to “work” with the DUP, no deal has been done. The horrific Grenfell Tower fire and the Northern Irish party’s desire to drive a hard bargain have stalled progress. Though no deal is better than a bad deal (to coin a phrase), the length of the negotiations has allowed Tory concerns to become entrenched.
Ever since May raised the prospect of an agreement with the DUP, Conservative MPs have had two fears: that a deal will further toxify their party’s brand (owing to the DUP’s stances on abortion and gay rights) and that it will make it impossible for the Tories to act as an impartial broker in the ongoing Northern Irish talks.
John Major, who rations his interventions carefully, amplified the latter this week when he warned that an agreement could put the “fragile” peace at risk.
Today’s Times/YouGov poll has heightened the Tories’ political concerns. It shows that only 8 per cent of the public have a “favourable” view of the DUP (48 per cent have an unfavourable one) and that only 27 per cent support a deal (48 per cent oppose one).
Conservative MPs, particularly those from the party’s One Nation wing, fear that a bad position among young and liberal voters will become worse. “It could wash away what’s left of Cameron’s legacy,” one told me.
May has belatedly called the DUP’s bluff by scheduling the Queen’s Speech for next Wednesday. Owing to progress made so far, the Tories are confident that the Northern Irish party will vote for their programme.
But this move has led some Conservatives to question whether a deal is required at all. Since the DUP’s ten MPs would never defy the government in a confidence vote (for fear of giving Jeremy Corbyn a route to power), some believe May should form a minority administration and seek support on a vote-by-vote basis. The costs, they say, far outweigh the benefits of an agreement: any deal is a bad deal.