The prime minister is governing as if she has a majority and a mandate. She needs to learn that she has neither

Posted By: June 28, 2017

The Guardian view on the Tory-DUP deal: Theresa May is in denial

Editorial. Monday, June 26, 2017

During the also failed to win her Brexit mandate. Mrs. May’s current problem is that she has not yet properly come to terms with either of these outcomes.

On Monday Mrs. May demonstrated this in two dangerous ways. In the first, she struck a Westminster deal with the Democratic Unionist party which emboldens her to behave as though she now has an overall majority when, in fact, she leads a minority government. In the second, she issued a tightly drawn paper on the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom after Brexit in which she acts as though her version of Brexit represents the settled public will when in reality it does no such thing.

 Even from her own point of view, it is hard to see why Mrs. May has struck the DUP deal. True, the DUP’s confidence and supply commitment means that the Conservatives will win key votes. Yet that would have happened anyway since the likelihood of the DUP bringing down the Tories and thus ushering Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street is a non-existent one.

 Instead, Mrs. May has shredded the Tory manifesto even further than it was shredded in the Queen’s speech by agreeing to keep the triple lock on pensions and the winter fuel allowance for older citizens. Much more seriously, however, she has found the money to give one part of the UK a cash boost for hospitals, schools, broadband, roads and farm payments that the rest of the UK cannot count on. This weakens the internal solidarity of the UK, but imposes no conditions – publicly, at any rate – on the DUP to ensure that the devolved power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland are restored in the wake of January’s suspension. It would be doubly deceitful if Mrs. May permits the DUP to get its hands on £1bn while continuing not to work with nationalists and snubbing this country’s true allies in the Republic.

It is up to Mrs. May and her colleagues to decide whether they think it is in the best interests of the 21st century Tory party to form an alliance with a Northern Ireland party with such conservative social views as much of the DUP professes. From the liberal side of politics, it looks as if Mrs. May is trading her party’s long-term claims to have modernized in favor of short-term survival. However, Mrs. May has won no political or moral right to put the Northern Ireland peace process at risk, nor to weaken the UK’s relations with the Irish Republic and no right to continue to pursue an illiberal Brexit at the country’s expense.

That, though, is the meaning of the new paper on EU citizens’ rights after Brexit. This is far from being the “fair and serious” set of proposals that Mrs. May again claimed in the Commons. Instead, this plan is full of hoops and hurdles that are at odds with the generous spirit that ministers say they wish to promote. The new plans are in fact barely any different from existing arrangements for migrants with leave to remain. They are needlessly costly, require a fresh application, do not offer guarantees about family union, and they fall short of what the EU27 have proposed. They are adamant the European court of justice will not have jurisdiction.

 In short, Mrs. May is acting as if nothing has changed. That is why rightwing Tory MPs, desperate to prevent concessions, rallied behind her in the Commons on Monday. Yet in the country, things have changed and are changing. The public has tired of austerity. It is more anxious about Brexit. Mrs. May, though, will not change unless she is forced to. Opposition parties and pro-European Tories must make that happen. They have the power. It is time for them to use it.