Since the election a number of people have written to me asking how, as a Conservative MP who voted for equal marriage, and as a Catholic whose father was born in Dublin, I could support my party governing in partnership the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (DUP).
First, let’s look at the numbers: There are 650 MPs in the House of Commons. One is the Speaker, who is neutral, and there are seven Sinn Fein MPs, who, as Irish nationalists, have never taken their seats in parliament. That leaves 642, meaning that any government needs to secure the support of at least 322 MPs to command a majority in the House of Commons.
The Conservative Party has 318 MPs, four short of the required number. The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party have both ruled out going into coalition with the Conservatives. Even if the Labour Party was able to construct a coalition involving the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, their combined total would only be 314 MPs, four fewer than the Conservatives, and eight short of a majority in the House of Commons. This means that they, too, would need to work with the DUP in order to form a government.
Secondly, the Prime Minister is not seeking to form a coalition with the DUP, as David Cameron did with the Liberal Democrats in 2010. The DUP would not be partners in the government, nor would they have Ministers in it. Instead, the two Parties are discussing an arrangement based on ‘confidence and supply’, which means that the DUP would support the Conservatives if there was a motion of ‘no confidence’ in the government, and also to get the Budget through the House of Commons. If a government fails to pass its Budget or loses a vote of no confidence, then a general election has to be called.
The country needs a government, and the failure to create one will lead to another general election within the next few weeks – the last thing anyone would want to see. Whatever combination of parties is involved in the government, they would be required to talk to and work with the DUP. As the Conservative Party has more MPs that all the other parties put together (excluding the Northern Ireland parties), it is right that we should take the lead in forming a new government.
For me, this not a meeting of minds with the DUP: there will be many things on which we disagree, as well as issues on which we can work together. But we have a responsibility at this time to work in the national interest by ensuring that a new government is formed.