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A legal challenge began in a London court on Thursday against the deal between Britain’s ruling Conservatives and a Northern Ireland party that allowed the government to cobble together a parliamentary majority in June. After losing their majority in a disastrous snap election on June 8, Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives secured support from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in return for a pledge to spend an extra 1 billion pounds in Northern Ireland.
The crowdfunded legal challenge, brought by a Northern Irish citizen, is based on the argument that the deal was corrupt because it amounted to using public money to buy votes. “We say the Conservative Party purchased the political support of the DUP for the sum of 1 billion pounds,” Dominic Chambers, a lawyer representing the challenger, told the High Court.
The government rejects the argument and was due to present its side later in the hearing. The challenge was launched by Ciaran McClean, a mental health worker and Green Party member, who raised 92,000 pounds ($121,600) on a crowdfunding website. McClean wrote on his fundraising page that he was horrified by the Conservative-DUP deal. “It’s straight bribery — money for votes,” he wrote.
McClean wrote that the agreement violated Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday peace agreement which requires the UK government to be impartial between unionists who want the province to remain part of the UK and republicans who aspire to become part of Ireland. Northern Ireland’s semi-autonomous institutions have been paralysed since January because of the collapse of a power-sharing agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein, the largest republican party.
May, who replaced David Cameron as prime minister after the Brexit referendum in June 2016, inherited a narrow parliamentary majority from him. In April 2017, with opinion polls suggesting she had a double-digit lead over the opposition Labour Party, she called a snap election, hoping to increase her majority.
But after an uninspiring campaign in which the Conservatives’ main new policy pledge was dropped within days because it appeared unpopular, they lost their majority. Support from the DUP’s 10 members of parliament has enabled May to cling to power as Britain moves closer to the challenge of leaving the European Union. It is not the first time May’s government has faced a citizen’s challenge over a major policy. Last year, it lost a legal battle initiated by businesswoman Gina Miller over whether it could trigger the Brexit process without parliamentary assent.