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Tories’ pensions plan rejected by DUP

Theresa May and Arlene Foster (Getty Images)
Theresa May and Arlene Foster (Getty Images)

PLANS to slash the annual increase in the state pension have been torpedoed by the shock General Election result.

The Tories had been planning to kill off the so-called “triple lock”, which guaranteed at least a 2.5% hike in the lifeline payment with a less generous deal.

But with no majority Government and a hung parliament, it now means the controversial move will be blocked in a boost for struggling pensioners.

Theresa May was last night locked in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her minority government, but a DUP source has told The Sunday Post they won’t support any change to the triple lock.

All of the opposition parties oppose changing the triple lock – which was introduced in 2010 and guarantees pensions will rise by the higher of prices, average earnings or 2.5% – so the plan is finished.

Talks between the DUP and the Tories in the coming days, ahead of next week’s Queen’s Speech, are expected to see Northern Ireland’s biggest party win promises on investment in the country and on the Brexit deal.

A DUP source said: “There will be no formal coalition and we have other priorities – not least Brexit – for the negotiations, but we won’t support any changes to the pensions triple lock.”

And a source close the UK Government said: “To be frank, I don’t think we’ll put up much of a fight on this one given that the issue tanked during the election, though you still have find the money to pay for this.”

During the General Election, the Tories said they would keep the triple lock guarantee until 2020, then replace it with a so-called “double lock”.

This would mean the state pension no longer rises by the minimum of 2.5%, but by whichever is the highest of inflation or annual earnings growth.

This means pensioners would be potentially worse off.

UK Government estimates put the current cost of the policy at £6 billion a year.

SNP MP Ian Blackford said retaining the triple lock would be good news for pensioners.

But added: “If Theresa May can’t even rely on her new friends in the DUP to support her key manifesto commitments then she is in serious trouble – it shows just how disastrous her campaign was.

“At every turn, SNP MPs will stand up to the Tory plans to remove the triple lock on pensions.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s two closest aides have quit in the wake of the disastrous General Election result.

Mrs May’s joint chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, resigned in the wake of the election which saw the Tories lose a Commons majority.

The role of Mr Timothy and Ms Hill as Mrs May’s joint chiefs of staff had been severely criticised by disgruntled Tories in the wake of the election result.

Mr Timothy acknowledged that one of his regrets was the way Mrs May’s social care policy – dubbed the “dementia tax” by critics – had been handled.

The Prime Minister was forced to perform an unprecedented U-turn within days of the publication of the Tory manifesto by announcing that there would be a cap on social care costs, something that had been absent in the original policy document.

In a resignation message on the ConservativeHome website, Mr Timothy said: “I take responsibility for my part in this election campaign, which was the oversight of our policy programme.

“In particular, I regret the decision not to include in the manifesto a ceiling as well as a floor in our proposal to help meet the increasing cost of social care.

“But I would like to make clear that the bizarre media reports about my own role in the policy’s inclusion are wrong – it had been the subject of many months of work within Whitehall, and it was not my personal pet project.

“I chose not to rebut these reports as they were published, as to have done so would have been a distraction for the campaign. But I take responsibility for the content of the whole manifesto, which I continue to believe is an honest and strong programme.”

The Prime Minister has made clear she wants support from her “friends and allies” in Northern Ireland’s DUP to secure her minority administration ahead of the Queen’s Speech on June 19, and has sent Chief Whip Gavin Williamson to Belfast to lead the talks.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Chief Whip is in Belfast holding talks with the DUP on how best they can provide support to the Government. We will not be providing a running commentary.”

Mrs May was expected to make further appointments to her Cabinet, but the damage to her own standing makes it less likely she will risk alienating colleagues by carrying out an extensive reshuffle. She simply cannot afford to have disgruntled former ministers sniping at her from the backbenches.

Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, remain in place.

With Brexit Secretary David Davis and Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon also staying put, the changes could centre on replacing the eight Tories who lost their seats, leaving 318.