By Paul Waugh
Theresa May’s crucial Parliamentary alliance with the DUP has suffered its first serious cracks after the party voted with Labour on a key Commons vote on the Budget.
In an ominous move for the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans, the Northern Ireland party also refused to support the Government on a string of other measures in the Finance Bill.
The DUP, which has heavily criticised May’s proposals for exiting the EU, flexed its political muscles by abstaining on several votes, including a proposal by Jeremy Corbyn to insert a child poverty test into the legislation.
Its threat to abstain on another amendment also forced the Treasury to cave in to demands to publish the precise costs of staying in the EU, May’s plans and a no deal outcome.
The ‘warning shot’ from the DUP spoiled Downing Street’s hopes of surviving the day unscathed, though it was buoyed by the fact that Tory plotters had failed to muster their promised 48 letters calling for a vote of no confidence.
The DUP’s 10 MPs currently prop up the PM in power thanks to a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement that was hastily cobbled together after the Tories lost their Commons majority in the 2017 general election.
The DUP has secured nearly £2bn extra for Northern Ireland following the deal, with some of the funds pledge in the recent Budget.
But the party is so furious with May’s Brexit proposals that it has decided to send a shot across the Government’s bows on Monday night not to be taken for granted.
It was unclear whether absentions by DUP MPs will be considered a formal breach of the agreement with the Tories.
No.10 refused to comment. But one DUP source said the alliance worked both ways, pointing out its ‘shared priorities for successful exit’ from the EU included control of borders, money and preservation of the Union.
The political deal requires the party to “support the Government on all motions of confidence, the Queen’s Speech, the Budget, Finance Bills”.
Labour was just five votes short of getting its Budget amendment on child poverty passed, with its amendment defeated by 292 to 287 votes.
The amendment would have forced the Treasury to measure the impact of the Budget on relative and absolute levels of poverty.
Earlier, DUP leader Arlene Foster stepped up her criticism of the Brexit plans, claiming they would lock the province and the rest of the UK into the EU “with no way out”.
Foster seized on remarks by Irish PM Leo Varadkar, when he conceded that he didn’t ‘contemplate’ Ireland imposing a hard border with Northern Ireland even if talks broke down.
She accused the British and Irish governments of creating a “a false choice” between accepting the draft withdrawal agreement or having no deal.
Foster said that the Brexit deal would lock the United Kingdom into the European Union “with no way out”.
“The European Union’s focus on the Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has only ever been a negotiating tactic to secure its own aims in the negotiations,” she said.