Belfast Telegraph

May prepares to hand out £1bn in 'cash for votes' deal with DUP without MPs' approval

By Rob Merrick

Theresa May will hand out the £1bn in her 'cash for votes' deal with the DUP without MPs' prior approval, it can be revealed, putting the government at risk of legal action.

The Commons will only vote after slices of the funds have been allocated to Northern Ireland, and will be denied a single vote on the overall £1bn - despite the government conceding last year that Parliament's "authorisation" is needed.

The decision has been condemned for leaving MPs "cut out of approving the deal", which gives Northern Ireland a huge spending boost in return for Mrs May being propped up in power.

It also prompted Gina Miller, the campaigner who forced the government to seek Parliamentary consent to start the Brexit process, to step up her threat of a judicial review of the arrangement.

Ms Miller said the government should "do the right thing and get Parliamentary approval for the whole amount upfront".

"This kind of dodgy behaviour is a betrayal of voters' trust, an abuse of our values of democratic accountability and an insult to decent, hard-working taxpayers," she said.

And she added: "I serve notice on the government that, if you continue to proceed in this cavalier way, my team and I will not hesitate to seek judicial review for this abuse of process."

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the "confidence and supply" agreement reached with the DUP after the Tories' general election debacle already "threatens to undermine the Good Friday Agreement".

"Now it appears that Parliament is being cut out of approving the deal by only being allowed to examine spending allocation retrospectively, which is not what Theresa May appeared to promise," he added.

"This cannot be allowed to happen, MPs must have the vote before the money is allocated."

Speaking last September, the Prime Minister said MPs would vote on the £1bn as part of "the normal process" for authorising government spending.

In a letter, a Treasury solicitor pointed to "long-established procedures, under which central government requests the grant of money by the House of Commons" in order to pay out the funds.

That annual "estimates" vote is due to take place today, but it has been learned that MPs will vote only on the £20m already given to Belfast for the financial year about to close.

A further £30m has already been announced for 2018-19 - and ministers say further sums are likely to earmarked in the coming months.

However, that will not be voted on, despite the estimates covering some other spending in 2018-19.

It is unclear when the rest of the £1bn will be handed over, amid controversy over the failure to restore power-sharing at Stormont and increasing acrimony between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Downing Street is believed to view the money as useful leverage over the DUP to agree to reach agreement on restoring power-sharing, risking the growing irritation of its partner in government.

It has been reported that the £20m is already being spent here, but a government source insisted this was not the case - and that it would only be spent once approved in today's vote.

No 10 was asked to comment on why MPs were not being granted a vote before the £1bn was allocated - and on the threat of judicial review - but declined to do so.

It was accused of turning to the "magic money tree" when the £50m was announced in November, to "address immediate pressure in health and education" in Northern Ireland.

The health cash represented an inflation-busting 5.4% boost, but there was no similar increase for England, Wales or Scotland ahead of the winter NHS crisis.

There seems little prospect however of any Conservative MPs rebelling in a vote on delivering cash to the DUP, given that its release is essential for the survival of their government.

Nevertheless, any Parliamentary debate about the extra funding required would allow Labour to argue for higher spending for the rest of the country.

At one point in recent weeks, Karen Bradley, the new Northern Ireland Secretary, suggested funding would be withheld until the Stormont executive was restored - but she quickly retracted that threat.

The DUP appears unlikely to abandon the confidence and supply agreement even if the money is held back, for fear that it would open the door to a Jeremy Corbyn government.

But some Tories fear the DUP could make extra demands before offering its support to pass legislation.

The deal itself covers only financial matters and backing to deliver Brexit.

Belfast Telegraph

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