Although it has taken at least two years, the old magic money tree is delivering again – perhaps in time for Christmas

For several months now, I’ve been lost in admiration for how political journalists and commentators in Slugger and elsewhere have been making bricks without straw  in trying to report the state of politics.

But now it seems, if  the panels in late night’s The View are to be believed, a mad rush is on  to complete a deal to restore Stormont –   perhaps as early as next Tuesday when Parliament rises for Christmas.  This may be a tad optimistic but not by much it seems. All parties are in full possession of  the terms for  the deal offered at Hillsborough and all are pressing for more, more money as usual. Talks of one kind or another are proceeding over the weekend. Momentum is key to avoid  somebody sticking  spokes in the works.

Newton Emerson as ever points out the complexities  but the outline is clear enough. As well as a cash subsidy to deal with the year’s overspend and pay demands, NI is being offered a “fiscal floor,” a new bottom line based on need  for the ongoing yearly scale of subsidy from London; an arrangement which it took ten  years for Wales to negotiate. Westminster has  so far set it at 124% of the  public spending level  for England.

Although Stormont was funded to 140 per cent of English levels as recently as 2019, that has been squeezed down to 123 per cent this year…

The 124 per cent figure was calculated by the Fiscal Council, an independent panel established under the New Decade, New Approach deal to advise Stormont on its finances. The DUP had cited this figure but now that the government has accepted it a bidding war has broken out as every party tries to own the issue. Alliance had already said the floor should be three percentage points higher due to policing costs, a claim endorsed by Prof Holtham at Westminster earlier this year. The Fiscal Council has noted it could be three points higher again due to limited tax-raising opportunities.

Chris Heaton Harris imposed two conditions, one that the Assembly is  promptly restored; and two that it agrees to raise extra revenue locally, like further rate increases, or water charges or prescription charges which are paid in England according to means.

However in The View the former head of the NI Civil Service  Sir David Sterling, although insisting he was now an outsider, played  down the reservations, insisting that the  government’s offer would probably be increased if the DUP went back, and at least maintained  even it they didn’t. It will not be withdrawn. There could be no reversion to the status quo. There would no early demand to raise extra revenue either  as all the emphasis should be laid  on improving efficiency in above  all, the health service.

So what about the DUP, the focus of so much obsession?  The financial offer may have given them something else to say No to. Bribe or blackmail then? It seems  the Penelope’s  tapestry of the  Windsor Framework is miraculously near completion, according to Enda Mc Clafferty’s report of the Hillsborough package.  

We now know the government is willing to amend the UK Internal Market Act to ensure Northern Ireland businesses will continue to have access to the UK market in “all scenarios”.

This is understood to focus on how NI goods are treated as EU as GB standards diverge.

A much bigger challenge comes in the control of goods moving from GB into NI which, under the Windsor Framework, will be subject to checks and paperwork… The lanes which are to be phased in have been in operation for three months, for food products without much controversy.

As a result there is every chance the EU may agree to easements and greatly reduce checks on the green lane. This could be done through the EU-UK joint committee which oversees the deal.


This however is a significant loose end the government will have to tie up over the next few days. But nothing has dampened down rising expectations  from  the Donaldson  camp.  Among commentators only Ben Lowry of the Newsletter is a pessimist worrying about the nature of the inevitable DUP split.

Can you bear the tension?   Just at the moment it seems churlish – risky even-  to ask why it has taken so bloody long.



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