Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
19 November 2018updated 03 Sep 2021 12:44pm

Say hello to minority government: The DUP are on strike

The party’s nine MPs are abstaining on almost every vote on budget legislation tonight. 

By Patrick Maguire

The DUP has gone on strike. Its nine MPs – the 10th, Ian Paisley Jr, returns from suspension tomorrow – are abstaining on all votes on the finance bill, with the exception of one Labour amendment on child poverty, which they will vote for. 

Cue the declarations that Theresa May has entered minority government and the Conservatives’ confidence and supply deal in dead. Though those declarations aren’t wrong, in truth they are a bit late. As I wrote last Friday, the DUP has been wilfully ignoring the letter of its agreement with the government for weeks – first on Brexit votes, and now on budget legislation. 

There is another argument to the contrary that you hear from sources familiar with the agreement’s drafting. They say it is the government, not the DUP, who are flouting the agreement, as the latter signed it on the basis that it would be supporting something more than Brexit in name only. In either case, the agreement is functionally dead and with tonight’s withdrawal of support the DUP is seeking to demonstrate that only it can provide confidence and supply to a Conservative government that satisfies its red line, and that this one isn’t it. 

For government whips, it is a rude reminder of just how unfriendly the Commons arithmetic is for the prime minister: they had already been forced to climb down and accept an amendment sponsored by 11 Remain-leaning Tories, including Jo Johnson, that called for the release of economic impact assessments on the Brexit deal. The DUP’s withdrawal of support is altogether more serious. 

It’s also worth noting that the only amendment the party will support bears the names of, among others, Jeremy Corbyn and John “it’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle” McDonnell. It’s a truism in Westminster – and one frequently recited by complacent Tories – that the DUP would never walk through the lobbies with these people or otherwise destabilise the government to their benefit. Their vote with the opposition sends a clear message: think again. (Nigel Dodds also praised Corbyn’s attack lines on the backstop, which is identical to his, in the Commons last week.)

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

For the ERG leadership, meanwhile, it offers some cheer on a trying day. As its drive for 48 letters falters, they hope to weaponise the DUP’s abstention as evidence that Theresa May’s premiership is over as a going concern, and not just on Brexit. Their argument is that if she cannot command a majority for budget votes, she cannot govern full stop and only a change of leadership will avert the collapse of her administration and with it this parliament. Tonight’s votes will give that argument some credibility. 

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up