There is an odd story doing the rounds this morning – that the government will have to allow Parliament a vote on the £1bn of extra spending that Theresa May agreed to in order to secure the votes of the DUP’s 10 MPs.
The reason why it’s odd is that Gina Miller, who successfully codified Parliament’s right to vote on whether or not Article 50 was triggered, instructed a lawyer to write to the government to find this out.
Far be it from me to tell people how to spend their money, but you don’t need to instruct a lawyer to find out if Parliament has to vote on expenditure, you just need to borrow a history book from any library. (Free while libraries last!) Start with say, any good history of the British Civil Wars and Interregnum.
Only Parliament, not the executive, can approve changes to what the government spends. That’s why various monarchs kept having to call Parliaments even when they disagreed with them or wanted to rule alone, as they couldn’t raise taxes or increase the funds available to themselves without recourse to Parliament as a lawmaking body.
May might have troublingly autocratic tendencies but she can’t sign away funding to anywhere without it going through the House of Commons at some point. This is what Parliament’s votes on estimates – usually held in February and mid-July – are about.
It’s true that by signing that £1bn deal with the DUP the government has holed its argument about austerity and “tough choices” below the waterline, as both the opposition parties and the voters will complain that that £1bn could have paid for more teachers, nurses, policemen or whatever. (Ignore for a moment that £1bn is not very much money as far as government expenditure goes and will in fact pay for more teachers, nurses and policemen in Northern Ireland – I’m not talking about what’s fair but how it will play politically.)
But that doesn’t mean that the act of passing an extra £1bn of expenditure is going to be a significant moment in the life of this parliament.