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Monday, September 18, 2017

Is the DUP deal on the skids?

As far as we are concerned Theresa May's so-called 'pact with the Devil' deal with the DUP to secure a majority in the House of Commons looked like a done-deal. That was before the DUP voted with Labour against the Government on the issue of tuition fees.

Gina Miller who, heroically, took the government on over the need for Parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50, has been doing some digging and has discovered that things are not as signed, sealed and delivered as the Tories would have us believe.

As she says in her Guardian piece, she felt it was necessary to test whether the deal was within the law:

'To our great surprise, the government’s lawyers responded by making an extraordinary admission. “No additional funding contemplated by the agreement [with the DUP] has yet been made available and no timetable has been established for the provision of funding,” their letter said. “We have also explained that additional payments contemplated by the agreement will be authorised by parliament.”

We were stunned. At no time, either when May struck the deal with the DUP or since, had the government admitted it required prior parliamentary authorisation before taxpayers’ money could be handed over to Northern Ireland. By never disclosing this crucial detail, senior members of the government look very much as if they had intentionally misled parliament, the parliamentary Conservative party, the public and, quite possibly, their prospective partners, the DUP.'

She continues: 'I question when, if indeed ever, the government intended to tell the truth, especially when both parties have repeatedly said that the first payment to Northern Ireland would be made this autumn. Both parties may well have claimed there is nothing “new or surprising” in what I have revealed about the £1bn payment, but their legal team told a different story. “Proposals for central government funding are put before the House of Commons in the form of main and supplementary estimate,” they said in their letter. “Estimates are subject to a vote in the House of Commons and are typically subject to debate in that house.”

Something just doesn’t add up. On the one hand, senior DUP members were vocal about pressing for a payment as soon as this October, but the central government supply estimates 2017-18 covers supply estimates for the year to 31 March 2018, which would mean the new legislation permitting this payment, even if as the government suggest “is a mere formality”, would not allow for it until the next financial year, commencing April 2018. Similarly, the budget doesn’t take place until 22 November, so it looks like the government’s IOU is getting bigger by the day. This doesn’t speak very well to the government’s commitment to open dealings with its parliamentary partners, nor its sense of accountability to parliament and the public. With the government saying that no timetable has been set for parliamentary authorisation of this additional payment to Northern Ireland, the question remains: when?

We need to be absolutely clear about what all this means. Last week, the government asked MPs to approve its keystone European Union (withdrawal) bill, granting it sweeping new “Henry VIII” powers that will allow ministers to meddle with our basic freedoms as they see fit, away from parliament and the scrutiny necessary to ensure our rights and protections are not diminished or extinguished. MPs need to fear the worst when it comes to what this government may do without proper parliamentary scrutiny.

As the Guardian says elsewhere, any parliamentary debate about the extra funding required would allow Labour and other opposition parties to exploit the government’s embarrassment at having to get this deal rubber-stamped. No matter how unhappy they are with working on a supply and confidence basis with the DUP, Tory MPs are unlikely to rebel on a matter that guarantees the safety of the government, but they will undoubtedly squirm as every detail of the agreement is taken apart by MPs.

As Gina Miller says, the British public deserves better than a government blatantly attempting to put itself above the law and seeking to bypass parliamentary scrutiny simply to cling to power. She adds: 'If there is one lesson to be learned from all this, it is that we need to watch this government – and all future governments, for that matter – like a hawk, and be prepared to ask awkward but legitimate questions. The price of liberty, as Thomas Jefferson so rightly said, is eternal vigilance.'
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