THE FUNDAMENTALISTS CALLING THE SHOTS IN THE BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS
BY STEVE FRENCH
The sheer weakness of Theresa May's government means the right-wing fundamentalists of the DUP could determine the future relationship between the UK and the EU
ARTICLE CONTAINS VIDEO
In the aftermath of the 2017 General Election, the Conservative party against all expectations failed to secure a parliamentary majority. To obtain a working majority in parliament the Conservatives (317 seats) secured a confidence and supply deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (10 seats). The Conservative government also promised an extra £1 billion to Northern Ireland in exchange for DUP support.
Initial outrage at this deal focused primarily upon the financial settlement made by the Conservatives to Northern Ireland in exchange for DUP votes, and upon the political nature and ideology of the DUP themselves. However, within the last few days a perhaps far more serious repercussion of the confidence and supply deal has emerged, namely the impact the DUP could have upon Brexit negotiations and the future relationship between the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the EU.
Without DUP backing May’s government will not be able to hold on to power and therefore a Brexit deal simply cannot happen without the consent of the DUP. A Brexit deal that side-lined the DUP would almost certainly result in the DUP withdrawing support for the Conservative government, trigger yet another General Election and send Brexit negotiations straight back to square one. So who is this tiny political party with less than 1% of the UK vote that commands such power, what red-lines will they set on Brexit negotiations and how will their influence affect the rest of us?
Who are the DUP?:
The DUP were formed in 1971 by the Reverend Ian Paisley as a hard line pro-British unionist party, opposed to any increase in the influence of Irish nationalists or the Irish Republic in the affairs of Northern Ireland. A Protestant country for a Protestant people. Indeed much of their support emerged from a suspicion that both the more moderate pro-British Ulster Unionist Party and the UK government itself was moving towards Catholic and Irish nationalist appeasement.
Ian Paisley himself held profoundly anti-Catholic views. He heckled as the Pope John Paul II made a speech to the EU parliament in 1988, calling the Pope “the antichrist”. He had previously stated when Pope John XXIII died in 1958 that “the Romish man of sin is now in Hell”.
The party now led by Arlene Foster continues to oppose legalised abortion, gay-marriage, wish “creationism” to be taught in schools, the idea that humans were created by God and that evolution as believed by the scientific community is not true, and in 2011 they called for a debate in the UK House of Commons regarding the return of the death penalty. The DUP campaigned for Brexit. During a secretly recorded conversation a member of the public said “it’s time to get the ethnics out” to which a DUP MP replied “you’re absolutely right” (the MP denies he agreed with the statement and the DUP disassociated itself from the comment). DUP MEPs sit with the non-inscrits in the European parliament, which includes neo-Nazis and fascists.
These are the people with the final word over Brexit negotiations.
This is an interview with DUP MP Gregory Campbell, the article continues below the video
What red-lines will the DUP set on Brexit?
On the morning of Monday the 4th of December it appeared through the mood music that a deal on taking Brexit to the next stage had been completed. To take Brexit negotiations forward, in particular to agree a future UK-EU trade deal, the EU had demanded that firstly an exit bill be agreed, secondly that EU citizens rights be agreed, and thirdly that issues relating to the border between Northern Irish (soon to be out of the EU) and the Republic of Ireland (within the EU) be agreed upon. Both the UK and the EU favour a frictionless border between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland without customs checkpoints or border guards.
In a bizarre turn of events, less than an hour before May and the European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker were set to take to the stage to announce a deal and a move towards trade negotiations the deal fell through. The DUP had called May and withdrawn support for the deal. This strange occurrence seems to mean that the DUP had at first supported a deal then withdrew support upon closer inspection, or even more strangely, that May had not even bothered to run the deal past the DUP before speaking to the EU.
So why did the DUP withhold support? This is fairly simple. The failed UK-EU deal in regards to the Irish border appears to have been based upon the idea that a frictionless border would continue between Norther Ireland and the Republic with any customs checks moving to the UK mainland. Essentially Northern Ireland would be given special status and people goods and services moving from Northern Ireland to the Republic or vice-versa would not face customs checks. However all people, goods and services moving from anywhere on the island of Ireland would face customs checks when entering the UK mainland. A sea border is after all much easier to manage in terms of customs checks than a land border.
This sort of deal is the very last thing the ultra-British DUP would want. Such a deal could result or at least be seen to result in a strengthening of the bond between the Republic and the North while at the same time weakening the link between Northern Ireland and the UK itself. This is of course entirely unacceptable to the ideology of the DUP and their voters.
What does this mean for the rest of us?
Unless May can find a way to continue receiving support from the DUP her government can’t last and Brexit will need to be negotiated again after a General Election. The DUP know that May and the Conservatives are very unlikely to call another General Election after the narrow victory of 2017 and with Labour currently leading in the opinion polls.
The DUP really do hold the reigns of power. Unless May can somehow persuade the DUP to accept some sort of sea border between the UK and Northern Ireland the UK and Northern Ireland either face a hard Brexit together or a very soft Brexit together. Neither scenario will be acceptable to huge chunks of the UK population or the EU. It also means that all future Brexit negotiations are stalled until a resolution is found. Time is running out, the UK must leave deal or no deal in March 2019. As this article is being written the pound has fallen again against the Euro and the US Dollar.
The result of May’s over-confidence (or what some would call hubris) in calling a General Election in 2017 despite already having a majority in parliament is this; the UK and our future relationship with Europe is being held to ransom by people who believe that creationism should be taught in schools, that gay-marriage and abortion should be illegal and that the Pope may very well be the anti-Christ.
This is the UK in 2017