The Conservatives have suffered a defeat in the Commons on a Labour motion calling for higher wages for NHS staff and an end to the public sector pay cap.
It comes after the Democratic Unionist Party – responsible for propping up Theresa May’s Government – earlier signalled the party would support Jeremy Corbyn’s motion.
While the motion is non-binding and would not require a change in Government policy it is evidence of the fragility of the Prime Minister’s deal with the Northern Irish party made in the wake of the inconclusive general election result.
It marks the first time DUP MPs have voted in a way to pressure ministers since the party agreed its confidence and supply arrangement with Ms May.
Making a point of order, Jonathan Ashworth, the Shadow Health Secretary, said the Government did not divide on the vote because they would have lost the motion brought forward by Labour.
He said: “Is it now clear that the House has been unanimous in saying we should end the pay cap in the NHS and give health workers a fair pay rise?
“And is it also now clear that the reason the Government did not divide on this motion is because they knew they would lose?”
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, DUP MP Ian Paisley said MPs could “send out a clarion call” on the issue by backing the non-binding motion.
But Mr Paisley also dismissed criticism from Labour of the Government’s £1bn deal with the DUP. “To those members of the Labour Party who chide about the £1 billion deal, your party would quite happily have cut a deal that would probably have been better for us,” he said.
“That's the discussions we had in advance of the last election, and to chide us, you only hurt public servants in Northern Ireland who are benefiting from that £1 billion deal that will allow us to allocate this money to relieve these costs.”
Earlier this week, Downing Street said the seven-year public sector pay cap is to be scrapped, unveiling a 1.7 per cent hike for prison officers and improvements totalling 2 per cent in police pay for 2017/18.
Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, the health spokesperson, added that the defeat should “serve as a wake-up call” for the Conservatives. “The pay cap is hitting morale and recruitment across the health service,” he said.
“We simply cannot sustain the NHS with year after year of cuts to the pay of dedicated staff, who are working flat out to keep services running.
“We already have a catastrophic shortage of nurses and other staff in the health service. This recruitment crisis will only get worse unless the government gives NHS and social care staff the pay rise they deserve.”