Theresa May and Arlene Foster: Friends with benefits (ew!)

We were all revolted (weren’t we?) when the Democratic Unionists and the Tories had their little love-in last year, even though it was clear from the get-go that Arlene Foster wasn’t keen to get into bed with Theresa May.

(Who would be?)

Mrs May has had to spend the months between then and now shoring up the deal with extras – to the extent that, by today, we can justifiably describe the relationship of the two parties as that of “friends with benefits”.

We can see that relationship in action via two stories today (March 11). In the first, it seems Mrs May has decided to hand the DUP nearly half of the £1 billion promised in the “confidence and supply” deal – without going through the necessary Parliamentary scrutiny.

Labour has, of course, dug its heels in. Here‘s The Independent:

Labour has demanded a full Commons vote after the Government announced it will soon hand over £410m of the £1bn in its “cash for votes” deal with the Democratic Unionist Party.

There must be “scrutiny over these additional funds”, the Opposition said, after The Independent revealed the Commons will not have its say until long after the money has been allocated to Northern Ireland.

Owen Smith, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, welcomed the big spending increase, which was needed to ensure “vital public services continue”, including health and education.

But he added: “Questions must be raised about the decision to allocate £410m from the Tory-DUP confidence and supply deal when we had previously been assured that there would be scrutiny over these additional funds and a vote.”

It is unclear whether MPs will vote separately on the Northern Ireland cash, or whether it will be wrapped up in the overall “estimates” decision – and when that process will take place.

Not only that, but it seems Mrs May is protecting DUP-held constituencies in Northern Ireland from cuts in free school meals that she is inflicting on poor children in England. This is from the Huffington Post:

Labour is staging a last-gasp Parliamentary vote next week to block changes to universal credit benefit thresholds that could see up to a million English youngsters denied eligibility for a free hot lunch.

The cuts planned for England stand in sharp contrast to the situation in Northern Ireland, where children of the “working poor” will get stronger protection.

In legislation due before MPs on Tuesday, English families on universal credit will see the income threshold for free school meals slashed to £7,400 a year.

But in Northern Ireland, where the Government has just taken direct control of spending budgets, the same threshold for eligibility will be nearly double that rate, at £14,000.

Protection from a cut is still a de facto boost to funding. With more than 102,000 pupils in Northern Ireland eligible for free school meals which would otherwise cost around £2.30 per pupil (although admittedly that is the cost to parents, rather than the government), the total subsidy could be nearly £46 million a year.

That’s in addition to the £1 billion, of course.

Theresa May is happy to pay this money, if it keeps her and her Tories in power.

After all, it isn’t her money, is it?

It’s ours.

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