UK Prime Minister Theresa May has secured a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party that will allow the government push through its legislative agenda in the next parliament. With the help of the DUP’s 10 MPs the Conservative government will have the majority it needs to win Wednesday’s vote of confidence and avoid fresh elections. In return for their support, the DUP has reportedly negotiated a deal worth around £1 billion to the Northern Ireland executive. Details of the agreement, which will be reviewed in 2019, were published on the UK.gov website. These show that £200 million per year will go towards infrastructure development in the province; £100 million extra per year will go into the Northern Irish health service and £150 million will be spent on improving broadband access. Other provisions include increased funding for economically deprived areas and boosting investment and enterprise. One measure that could have a long-term economic impact throughout the UK is the commitment in the agreement to devolve the power to set corporation tax to the national executives.
Although the deal saves the Conservatives from having to go back to the polls at a time when Theresa May’s popularity has plummeted, it is still fraught with political difficulties. Apart from the DUP’s socially conservative views on abortion and gay rights, which have caused disquiet within the Conservative party, there is the need to re-establish the power-sharing government between the DUP and Sinn Fein in the Stormont assembly which broke down earlier this year over a scandal involving a mishandled energy scheme that could cost taxpayers hundreds of million of pounds. Critics of the deal have questioned how the UK government can maintain its position as an honest broker in disputes between the two governing parties in Belfast if one of those parties, the DUP, is propping up the government in Westminster. In the statement announcing the agreement Downing Street said, “The Conservative party reiterates its support for the Belfast Agreement and its successors and, as the UK government, will continue to govern in the interests of all parts of the community in Northern Ireland”