Theresa May has now stated that she will look to work closely with her “friends and allies” in the DUP, but the terms of this deal are yet to be set out. Many of the smaller parties early on in the campaign were keen to rule out any kind of coalition or deal with either Labour or the Conservatives, having seen the electoral impact on the Liberal Democrats for having made such a bargain in 2010.
The DUP however arguably does not face the same threat of backlash for “propping up” a Conservative government. The issues that dominate the political landscape in Northern Ireland are so different that the DUP may not need to gain much in the way of concessions from the Tories in order to be able to justify this new alliance to their core voters. The DUP’s success in gaining two Westminster seats in this election can largely be seen as a consolidation towards the extremes of Northern Irish politics with Sinn Fein also making gains. The nationalist surge in the recent assembly election scared unionists and they have reacted by consolidating around one voice in the form of the DUP. In losing their majority for the first time ever in Stormont, unionists were concerned that they were losing their grip on power and that calls for a border poll were starting to look more legitimate. What better way then to restate your dominance than by playing a significant role in the next government? Contrast this with 7 abstaining Sinn Fein MPs and 0 SDLP MPs removing the nationalist voice from Westminster entirely, and the question surely has to be asked has unionism in Northern Ireland ever looked stronger?
With regards to specific policy there are few big issues that the DUP and Conservatives actually disagree on. The deal that is therefore more likely to come should focus on funding and the “block grant” that is sent to Stormont. Given the size of the Northern Ireland economy though the small increases need to make a significant difference may seem like a small price to pay for the Conservatives in order to stay in power. However, one notable exception to the general consensus between DUP and Tory policy comes in the form of welfare spending. The DUP wishes to keep the universal winter fuel allowance and the pension’s triple lock, both policies that the Conservatives pledged to discontinue. It seems unlikely that the DUP would reasonably hold any sway if the Conservatives stick to their guns on these issues. But promising to scrap these policies has been very unpopular and touted as one of the reasons that the Conservatives failed to gain the majority they sought. This might suggest that a U-turn on welfare may come from the Conservatives for a number of reasons.
The final issue on which the DUP may wish to bolster their imput is Brexit. Like most parties however, the DUP has mainly stuck to very vague commitments with regards to Brexit saying only that they want a “good deal” for Northern Ireland. One thing they have been clear on however is that they do not want to see a hardening of the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. What we may then see is the Northern Irish dimension simply taking a more prominent position in the negotiations with Europe.
While the interests of the DUP and of Northern Ireland are certainly expected to benefit from this situation it is not likely that the DUP will provide too much pushback against the Conservatives. The idea of a Labour government with left-wing policies and increased sympathies towards nationalists is so abhorrent to the DUP that keeping the Conservatives in power will always triumph over satisfying their own demands in the minds of Northern Ireland’s largest party.
Finn Purdy is a student from Belfast, currently studying at Trinity College Dublin.