DUP plans to vote with Labour on NHS pay and tuition fees

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Junior party in May’s minority government to vote with Corbyn – the first time its MPs will break with Tories since election deal

Junior party in May’s minority government to vote with Corbyn – the first time its MPs will break with Tories since election deal

Wednesday 13 September 2017

First published on Wednesday 13 September 2017

The Democratic Unionist party is planning to vote with Labour in favour of raising NHS pay and against higher tuition fees during opposition day debates, the Guardian has learned.

The party’s MPs will back Labour on a “fair pay rise” for NHS workers and oppose the government’s increase in tuition fees – the first time the DUP will have broken with the Conservatives since their deal after the election.

A DUP source confirmed that the party’s position was to vote on Wednesday for two opposition day motions tabled by Labour. The votes are believed to be non-binding and therefore fall outside the DUP’s confidence and supply agreement with Theresa May’s party.

The Conservatives will refuse to back either motion, which were tabled by Labour partly with the intention of highlighting divisions between May and the DUP.

The DUP’s decision to side with Labour will mean a defeat for the government if the motion is put to a vote, although the Tories are likely to abstain in an attempt to take the sting out of the situation.

It will have no effect on policy, but is a sign that Labour may be able to exploit differences between the Conservatives and the DUP in future in order to inflict more meaningful defeats on May.

The party’s move is in line with its longstanding approach to wanting to lift the pay cap, and the DUP backed a similar early day motion earlier this year.

Ian Paisley Jr, the DUP MP for North Antrim, said: “I must say that myself and my colleagues are minded to support the motion … put before the house this evening.”

The party is also opposed to higher student fees, having voted against lifting the cap to £9,000 in 2010.

Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP MP for Lagan Valley, denied that supporting Labour on NHS wages and opposing tuition fees put the deal that props up May’s government at peril.

“No not at all,” he told the Guardian. “We made clear to her majesty’s government on issues like this we reserve the right to vote on the basis of our own manifesto. This doesn’t threaten the deal at all.”

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, told the Commons on Wednesday that Labour’s motion calling for a fair pay rise for NHS workers and an end to the 1% pay cap was “bogus”.

“The consequences of losing financial discipline for a government are not just pay freezes and 1% caps, but a million unemployed as a result of that recession we had post 2008,” he said.

“In fact, every Labour government in modern times has left office with unemployment higher than when they arrived.

“And that is why this afternoon’s motion is so bogus, because the difference between this side of the house and that side of the house is not about a desire to invest in public services, it is the ability to deliver a strong economy so that we can make that investment.”

Downing Street has been under huge pressure over the issue of public sector pay since the election, when May lost her majority, with some Conservative MPs in marginal seats applying pressure for an end to seven years of austerity.

Earlier this week, No 10 said the pay cap would end for prison officers, who will get a 1.7% pay rise, and police, who receive a 2% increase next year, while signalling that the overall cap is likely to be eased in the next budget. May will need DUP votes in order for the budget to get the approval of parliament this autumn, so ending the cap may have been a political necessity.

However, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said the rises were insufficient and amounted to a pay cut with inflation at 2.9%.

“If the government are indeed abandoning this cap, let us put them on notice,” he said. “It must apply to the whole of the public sector, including the 55% of workers who are not covered by the pay review bodies.

“And we also put them on warning – we will not accept a divide-and-rule approach, we will not accept playing one set of public sector workers off against another.”

Ashworth said it “wasn’t good enough” for ministers to grant more flexibility over pay and expect hospitals to fund an increase for staff from existing budgets.

MPs told the House of Commons about examples of public sector workers such as ambulance technicians and nurses struggling to get by, being forced into debt or to take second jobs.

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