365 days of minority Government

Ordinary observers of UK politics could be forgiven for thinking that they were living under a majority Conservative government for most of the last year. For those who do not have their noses quite as close to the political grindstone it is easy to forget the events that immediately followed the last General Election which saw Theresa May lose her majority, her two closest advisers and probably, momentarily, her will to go on.

With the exception of the debate over post-Brexit customs rules – where the DUP resisted the prospective installation of any hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic or any new customs border with the rest of the UK – the ten unionist MPs that enabled the Conservatives to stay in power have been remarkably quiet.

This may be for a few main reasons. Firstly, the price of their support was set high in June 2017 and not all of the monies secured from the Treasury have yet to be realised as part of the agreed schedule of spending on Northern Ireland’s infrastructure, health and other policy objectives. Most of the cash promised was promised over two years – we are only now entering year two.

The second reason may be that the DUP has been preoccupied with addressing the meltdown in power-sharing in Stormont. Northern Ireland’s devolved administration has not had an executive since January 2017. The focus required to negotiate with Sinn Fein and to handle the communications surrounding the dispute would be enough on its own to prevent the DUP leadership from seizing on every opportunity to extract more concessions from Downing Street.

Another credible reason for the DUP’s apparent passivity is that they really do want to see Brexit carried through. Much like backbench Conservative Brexiteers, the DUP contingent know that if they rock the boat too much it will sink and, in all likelihood, this is a one-time journey in said boat.

The question is how long the DUP will sit in the back seat before kicking the back of that of the driver to ask for more. Once the money from the Confidence and Supply Agreement is spent, will what is left of the Brexit process be enough incentive to continue playing nice?

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