Although Theresa May looks set to avoid a confidence vote for the time being, tonight’s Finance Bill votes could serve to undermine her authority further. Government whips have spent the day frantically trying to persuade swing MPs to vote with the government against a series of amendments.
Those efforts have been rather fruitless in some respects – with the government already forced to concede on the Jo Johnson backed amendment calling for the Treasury to publish a comparison of the impact of the Brexit deal with the impact of Britain’s existing terms with the EU.
Adding to May’s woes is the fact the DUP have abstained on most of the votes. In theory, they should back May’s government here as it’s a vote on the Budget which is part of the confidence and supply agreement. However, with Arlene Foster and Westminster leader Nigel Dodds seething over the proposed Northern Ireland backstop in the EU withdrawal agreement, they have no plans to play ball. This is a worrying development for the government as without the DUP’s support, the Tories have no working majority. This could be the end of the confidence and supply agreement full stop or just teething issues as the two parties grapple with the draft text. Given that there has been no public announcement from the DUP, it’s more likely that it is a warning shot – reminding No.10 that they still have cards to play.
If it does become the former, this won’t necessarily prevent May from trying to govern without a working majority – she could try to govern as a minority government. Either way, with Tory divisions at an all time low and the DUP’s support up in the air, the government whips are getting a taste of things to come: thin gruel.