Article by Mike Hough
Westminster returned this week and in the ongoing psychodrama that is UK politics it was the DUP who were the lead actors. The DUP, fully aware of the strength of their current hand raised eyebrows in Parliament by threatening to vote down the Budget if Brexit red lines were crossed.
Since this threat there have been briefings and counter-briefings. Many on the Conservative benches continue to believe the DUP are bluffing. However, it is my opinion this would be a foolish position for those in the Conservative Party to hold and that the threats of the DUP should be taken seriously.
Firstly, the clue is in the name. Above all the DUP believe in the union. They have been clear about this all along. They have also been unequivocal they will not accept any Brexit deal which treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. The DUP remain of the view the “backstop” proposals do precisely this. If the DUP were to accept these proposals then they would go against everything they claim to stand for and believe in.
Second, the DUP are just better negotiators. They do these sort of negotiations far more often than the Conservative Party. Northern Irish politics has been a negotiation for as long as anyone can remember and the DUP have been big players in this. Also, as shown in the failed negotiations over power-sharing in Stormont the DUP are not afraid to bring everything down if they need to. Furthermore, they remain publicly comfortable with a ‘No Deal’ scenario.
Thirdly, the DUP are fully aware they can vote down the deal without triggering a General Election. The DUP remain fearful of a Corbyn Government despite their claims they would welcome a General Election. However, both the Budget and the Brexit deal under the Fixed Term Parliament Act would not necessarily be seen as confidence issues. To use a commonly held term the DUP can have their cake and eat it.
It is still unclear where these Brexit negotiations will end, but we do know Theresa May cannot afford to lose the votes of the DUP. Without these votes any attempt to pass a Brexit deal through Parliament would ultimately end in defeat.
Therefore who blinks first? History suggests it will not be the DUP.