The Conservative-DUP stand-off means that there is now a real chance of an early election

While the internal Tory row won’t precipitate an early election, we can’t be certain the Tory-DUP divisions won't.

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What’s the resolution of the current stand-off between the Conservative Party and their coalition partners, the Democratic Unionist Party? Although the confidence-and-supply agreement struck by the two parties is still formally in existence, the agreement is, at the moment, more honoured in the breach rather than the observance. The DUP abstained on several crucial finance votes yesterday and the day before, and as a result the government had to concede several opposition amendments.

The DUP’s irritation with Theresa May stems from the backstop – essentially the insurance policy contained within the EU-UK exit deal that, come what may, there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland – as it hives Northern Ireland off into a separate regulatory and customs framework.

But the difficulty for the Conservative Party, whoever is leader, is that there is no way that any Prime Minister can reach an agreement with the European Union that doesn’t include some form of backstop in it – so what happens then? Do the DUP simply continue to not vote with the government, or do they actively switch sides in the event of a no confidence vote?

There are good reasons to think the answer might be that, if eventually some kind of withdrawal agreement is passed, the DUP decides that the leverage they enjoy in this parliament isn’t worth risking. But equally it might not. It means that we can no longer be certain that this parliament will go its full length – whereas even a week ago we could be confident that, come what may, the Conservative Party would never bring about an early election on its own.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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