The Government caved to pressure to end the public sector pay freeze after the DUP made clear it was on the side of nurses, midwives and other workers, HuffPost UK can reveal.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs signalled to ministers that they were going to back a Labour motion on Wednesday, which urges Theresa May to “end the public sector pay cap in the NHS”.
May lost her Commons majority in the general election and is being propped up in power by a deal with the Northern Ireland party’s crucial 10 MPs.
In what appears to be yet another sign of the DUP’s influence, the Government announced on Tuesday that it was finally ditching its 1% cap on pay for all public sector workers.
The Cabinet agreed that police would get 2% and prison officers 1.7% in 2017/18, and declared that “more flexibility” would be shown to millions of other staff furious with years of real terms pay cuts.
But HuffPost has discovered that DUP MPs such as Jim Shannon were ready to vote with Labour on its Opposition Day motion on Wednesday, and has seen emails showing that the party worked behind the scenes to get ministers to change tack.
DUP MPs believe that the motion does not in any way conflict with their ‘confidence and supply’ deal to keep the Conservatives in power.
The Opposition motion would not be binding, but would have been highly symbolic and some Tory MPs were planning to abstain, leaving Labour with a possible political victory.
Labour deliberately worded its resolution to match exactly an Early Day Motion from earlier this year which had been supported by the DUP’s Shannon and Jeffrey Donaldson.
The Cabinet’s decision to end the 1% cap now frees up Tory MPs to abstain without being accused of undermining the Treasury’s policy on wages.
A No.10 spokesman said on Tuesday that “the Cabinet agreed that our public sector workers are among the most talented and hard-working people in our society”.
“They, like everyone else, deserve to have fulfilling jobs that are fairly rewarded,” the PM’s spokesman added.
“The government recognises that in some parts of the public sector, particularly in areas of skill shortage, more flexibility may be required to deliver world class public services, including in return for improvements to public sector productivity.”
The DUP has secured £1bn for Northern Ireland thanks to its agreement with the Conservatives and is determined to pump the money into infrastructure and other public services.
Few if any DUP MPs would claim that they forced a change in Government policy but rather cheered on the Cabinet’s shift.
Unionists may suspect that ministers were more worried about public opinion than the votes of individual MPs on a non-binding Opposition Day motion.