Things are escalating fast in the row between the government and the DUP. Yesterday’s threat to vote against the Budget was followed by them abstaining on the agriculture bill. The message is clear: if we don’t like what you sign up to on the backstop, we’ll make it impossible for you to govern.
So, what is going on here? Well, a large part of it — as Katy Balls says on Coffee House — is about trust. The DUP suspect Downing Street and the civil service, in particular, of being ready to sell them out, and so aren’t inclined to believe their assurances.
One of the other problems, I am told by one of the Tory DUP handlers, is that while Number 10 has been giving the DUP a sugar-coated version of what backstop would mean, Barnier gave them the unvarnished one. I understand that he pointed out how the backstop would have more influence, the more the UK diverged from the EU. This point, which might have sounded obvious to Barnier’s team, particularly alarmed the DUP.
As I say in my column in this week’s magazine, the DUP have been telling Cabinet Ministers that they really would be prepared to vote down the withdrawal agreement and risk a Corbyn government if that prevented new barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Their actions over the last 48 hours suggest that they really are prepared to carry this threat through.