Rishi Sunak has ruled out a coalition with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party after the next general election, shutting down a potential route for the UK’s Conservative prime minister to retain power.
Although opinion polls currently give Labour a double-digit lead, some psephologists have said there is a high chance of a hung parliament with no party enjoying a majority after the vote, which must be held by early 2025.
In such an eventuality, Sunak would have few potential allies apart from the rightwing DUP, which won eight seats in the 650-member House of Commons at the 2019 election. The Liberal Democrats have already excluded any deal with the Conservatives and the Scottish National party are sworn enemies of the pro-union Tories.
But Sunak, speaking ahead of the G7 summit in Japan, also excluded a coalition with the DUP, which helped to prop up Theresa May’s minority Tory government after the inconclusive 2017 election.
Sunak was asked by the Financial Times on a flight to Japan if he could cut a coalition deal with the DUP if the Tories failed to win a majority.
The prime minister replied: “I have been clear and I will be clear, I’m not interested in coalition.” Asked whether he was ruling out a DUP-Conservative pact he said: “I am.”
Given the fraught relations between Sunak and the DUP — which has rejected the prime minister’s efforts to rewrite the Brexit-related Northern Ireland protocol that governs the region’s trading relations with Britain and the EU — such a deal may have been unlikely in any event.
The DUP’s deal with May also fell short of a full coalition: the Northern Irish party agreed to prop up the May government on key Budget issues and no confidence votes — a so-called confidence and supply deal — in exchange for large amounts of extra public spending for their region.
Sunak’s decision to exclude a power sharing deal with the DUP is partly a reflection of his plan to challenge Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to rule out a post-election pact with the Lib Dems in a hung parliament.
Starmer has ruled out a deal with the SNP but has left open the possibility of an agreement with the Lib Dems.
During the 2015 general election the Conservative party weaponised the idea of a Labour-led coalition, dubbing it a “coalition of chaos” in a series of attack advertisements.
Starmer insists he can gain the 120 seats necessary to win an outright Labour majority — a huge undertaking — without relying on a deal with the Lib Dems.
Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, would almost certainly insist on the delivery of electoral reform as a price for any deal, after the party’s unhappy experience in coalition with David Cameron’s Tories from 2010-15.
But both parties question whether Sunak could credibly run a “coalition of chaos” attack on Starmer given the recent turmoil associated with single-party Conservative rule.
“I am interested in delivering a Conservative majority at the next election,” Sunak told reporters on the plane to Tokyo. “But what I’m more focused on is not worrying about the election, it’s delivering my five pledges.”