20 Jun 2017

DUP sources: Number 10 in ‘chaos’

The DUP have rattled their sabres telling the UK government to get on with the deal that’s been sought to prop up Theresa May’s minority administration. They’re telling Downing Street to focus and there are probably a few things going on here.

DUP sources have talked of finding Downing Street to be in chaos since the election. There’s talk of young aides who “probably couldn’t find Northern Ireland on the map” in meetings, a reference to the clear out of many of Mrs May’s original team of advisers after the snap election calamity. There’s also a suggestion that the PM has not seemed able to make decisive calls; one source even suggested that Gordon Brown had appeared readier to make decisions when they’d had dealings with him.

There is also an element here of the DUP having been involved in more negotiations than a haggling Marrakech stall-holder. They know how to play these moments for internal and external consumption. You get all the more praise if you look like you struggled for something.

Leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Arlene Foster and Deputy Leader Nigel Dodds arrive at 10 Downing Street in London, for a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, Tuesday June 13, 2017.

And there’s also a bit of an uncomfortable story dominating some parts of the Northern Ireland media which Arlene Foster won’t enjoy. A letter she yesterday said she couldn’t remember sending has surfaced  and got some attention on front pages.

It shows Mrs Foster raising objections to the idea of same sex marriages being recognised in Northern Ireland but the real concern in her mind might be the fact that something she hadn’t recalled has turned up.

She won’t like any story with the faintest echo of the fuel scheme saga knocking around, a reminder of how much her political fortunes have turned thanks to Theresa May’s misfortunes.

The Queen’s Speech, which the DUP will support in the vote next Thursday, has been gone through in fine detail in a process that started the very weekend after the election. Gone are some of the most controversial policies that cost Theresa May so many votes and lost political capital in the election. They’d have gone even without the DUP veto operating, but that has made the process slightly easier.

Tomorrow’s speech will show that Theresa May doesn’t feel confident enough to legislate for energy price caps (one of her more popular policies, but not with many Tory MPs). Regulators may be asked to review and act where possible. There are seven or eight bills related to Brexit in the Queen’s Speech, foreshadowing the real focus of this session and the government’s efforts.

Talk to Tory MPs and you find them pretty conflicted about what should happen next with their battered leader. I’ve heard quite a few of them today say that Theresa May cannot survive far beyond the Conference and if she was still leader by the time of that gathering in Manchester they would have to give a timetable for her replacement there. Some think the only time for a contest to happen without disrupting Brexit is over the summer. Some are desperate for a change of leadership but desperate to avoid a contest. All mutter gravely about how the handover will provoke cries of “no mandate” and “we need another election” that could prove hard to resist.

In short, nobody thinks Theresa May can last longer than the whole Brexit negotiation (i.e. two years). A sizable chunk of MPs I spoke to think she will have gone by Conference or soon after. There are few who speak of her with great respect.

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