Once dreaded, the Tory-DUP deal is broadly good

At the end of election night, the prospect of a DUP-Tory coalition provoked a lot of dread. The DUP was UKIP before UKIP, and has very hard lines – to put it diplomatically – on many social issues. A Tory-DUP deal seemed like it may mean a return to the Tory party under Ian Duncan Smith; a party so socially conservative people wondered if they’d been outside since 1968. In the end, that hasn’t happened. With the publication of the agreement between the two parties, we now know that there will be no DUP enforced ban on the teaching of evolution or on Catholics holding office.

From the start, commentators who knew anything about Northern Ireland were telling us that the DUP wouldn’t be pushing to enact major social change in England. That may not have stopped us worrying, but they have been largely vindicated. Instead, the party was after money. This deal gives them that money.

Northern Ireland will receive roughly £1bn more a year during this parliament. That money will go on infrastructure, health and – importantly – farmers. EU subsidies paid to farmers will continue after we’ve left the union, in Northern Ireland but probably not England.

Northern Ireland could probably do with more money. There are severe development issues in the province, and that additional money will go a long way. The money is being delivered as a block grant, which means that it doesn’t affect the Barnett formula (and thus Scotland and Wales won’t receive more money).

The deal may have implications on the Good Friday Agreement and power sharing. Those implications aren’t formal, but political. This deal is not a coalition (though a coalition likely wouldn’t have had a monumentally different effect).

The arguments we’ve been hearing over recent weeks – that a government propped up by the DUP cannot be impartial, and being seen as in some way impartial is critical in bringing power sharing back – have come from some people who really should know what they’re talking about. People including John Major. However, the effect it has is somewhat limited.

Until the 2010 election, the Conservatives were officially part of an electoral alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), while Labour is still part of an electoral alliance with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and the Lib Dems likewise with the Alliance Party. The UUP is a unionist party, the SDLP is a republican party, and Alliance is a cross community party with few representatives. Both major party alliances have the same effect as a supply and demand deal with the DUP in terms of government impartiality- though both parties are more palatable.

The issues that could legitimately have implications with the GFA come in the Tory manifesto. The Tories want to limit the amount of investigations into the actions of British troops during the troubles. The DUP would also like that, rather unsurprisingly. That forms part of the annex to the agreement.

The wording of the agreement, including the Tories commitment to unionism and declaring that the party is not impartial will raise a lot of eyebrows in Northern Ireland. It is true, and has always been true, but it is rather on the nose.

As such, the deal does make the route back to power sharing in Stormont rockier than it was before. That doesn’t mean the route is impassable.  

However, taking a more holistic view, this isn’t a bad deal. The DUP is in many ways an unpalatable party, but they have not been able to further their unpalatable causes. Instead, the party has managed to unlock much needed funding. Overall, the backlash we’ll see in Westminster will be wildly over the top. If we're trying to draw any conclusions on May's abilities to negotiate from this, we might not find much out: on the one hand, May has given out a lot of money. On the other, we don't know if the DUP originally wanted to change social policy. It may be a good deal for May, it could be a bad one, but its certainly not a bad one for the UK.