Sure what harm could a Tory deal with the DUP do?

Just a late night list of problems with the Tory-DUP deal before we see it sometime later in the week.

In summary it  disturbs the careful balance of the Good Friday agreement by its very existence.

There’s the risk of huge danger to the wider unionist position if the DUP overbid. They would fare much better to cleave to the unionism of Ruth Davidson with its far wider appeal and influence.

A pact between two very different forms of unionism can offer the DUP very limited support on the nagging constituional question . Self determination is limited to both parts of Ireland. The rest of the UK is excluded although it’s clearer than ever that the Conservatives under any likely leader won’t be neutral on the question. This matters straightaway on pressing for a return to Stormont and attitudes to a border poll. Does it help the DUP’s cause if May or a successor takes one side and Corbyn ditto the other?  And  Dublin coming on stronger in support of nationalism,  perhaps with Fianna Fail organising to rival Sinn Fein in the North?

How can a British minister broker a Stormont agreement if one side is propping up his government? In part, an uninformed question. What brokering role?  People asking this have failed to notice Brokenshire compromised his role just before it might have begun by joining the DUP in complaining that legacy inquiries were focusing too much on the army.   And even before the Manchester and London atrocities May was looking ahead to a post- Brexit review of the Human Rights Act and membership of the ECHR, even those these are entrenched in the GFA.  Brokenback has put little effort into mediation anyway and has largely stuck to setting elastic deadlines.

The deal increases  polarisation of unionists and nationalists and adds a big threat to stabilty. Can meaningful power sharing survive in this atmosphete and with Gerry Adams keeping nagging on about a border poll as the rival attraction?  Prospects for the return of the Assembly have surely been weakened. It will require a completely different approach to mediation to revive them.

It could even emperil the Union it’s pledged to defend.  Catholics of middle of the road and anti SF views will have a big say in its long term survival. What do they think the DUP deal says about fairness for Catholics? Is this the sort of state they are content to belong to? The alternative of a UI within the EU begins to look  more and more attractive. Maybe even worth souring relations with Prods? How much worse could they get? (A lot actually).

It could end Tory-Labour bipartisanship over the Union. Tories plus DUP equals Labour plus Irish nationalism. And Labour could be back in power within a year. So was it worth it, they’ll ask – too late.

It imposes strains on the vital British – Irish relationship. Won’t Dublin feel compelled to give more active support to northern nationalism as Adams is demanding?

Does this list exaggerate the problems? I hope so.

Later.  The  bits of the DUP manifesto on flegs and parades  etc  were cynically added to draw out the vote, believing they’d never be implemented. Reports that the DUP are pressing for concessions on austerity over welfare payments such as  the proposed removal of part of the triple lock and winter fuel payments for pensioners would be popular beyond Northern Ireland. Concentrating demands on  pan-UK matters would modestly improve the DUP’s external reputation and even perhaps its internal one..

We haven’t seen the confidence and supply arrangement,  but the transparency a deal of this kind with the Tories requires – and certainly the debate that follows-  might actually help stability  by ruling out a unionist flegs regime, and a legacy policy that specially favours the army. It could even advance LGBT rights as May hinted at to the redoubtable Ruth Davidson.

An outcome along the lines  of an  ” open Brexit” as pressed by Davidson is more in tune with the Foster- McGuinness letter to May almost a year ago, which was an eloquent statement of NI’s real interests. Even though Nigel Dodds rushed to rule out remaining in the single market, his is not the last word.

Back to the impartiality role of the British government in the GFA. Whatever the enthusiasm of the Secretary of state for the Union, he or she would be legally  obliged to call a border poll if a majority in favour had emerged. Criteria for reaching this decision remain unknown and they will surely be raised in public soon as part of a wider debate about the wisdom of relying on numbers alone .

Any financial  incentives should be linked to the return to Stormont. If negotiated entirely separately the chances of return would surely be seriously jeopardised. Any extra funding  should be accompanied by Treasury supervision to force through Health and social services reform and pressure to restrict the blocking effect of petitions of concern. This was part of the Fresh Start agreement of late 2015 but never fully implemented.  Limiting the veto power of petitions would improve the chances of introducing same sex marriage and breaking some other deadlocks.

The DUP should bear in mind that any extravagant rattling of the begging bowl would be deeply unpopular in other regions and could damage the sense on  Union solidarity that the DUP otherwise courts.

Some fears of DUP influence on British social policy are wide of the mark. DUP blocking of same sex message probably no longer commands  majority support never mind importing it across the water. The DUP are canny enough to realise that and pressure to change at home will not let up from far wider than Sinn Fein. They will surely lie low on all this as exposure would only  increase pressure on them at home.

While this stretches the point, the discovery of what the DUP appears to stand for by the wider world should present the amorphous centre ground opinion in all parties at home with  a real opportunity to recover confidence in consensual reform. Many people must be horrified at the image of Northern Ireland being presented. But yes, folks, you live in an obsessively introverted world and that’s what you look like to outsiders who have barely noticed you beyond recoiling from the late Paisley’s guldering. They might just be surprised at what still lies  behind the later image of the chuckle brothers that was repudiated when the old man was ruthlessly replaced. Perhaps more pragmatic and ambitious DUP figures will use this exposure to modernise just a bit faster than Robinson managed. On the other side the Daily Mail and friends are unlikely to let up on reminders of Sinn Fein’s antecedents, in spite of their rather  better modernised image.

Finally, and I never thought I’d have to say this, I find myself wincing at  the heavy patronising and overmonstering of the DUP in the media as a substitute for genuine inquiry. It has sometimes felt like borderline racism. Apart from the usual suspects of the Mail and the Telegraph, few of them would talk about Sinn Fein like that. Ask Jeremy Corbyn who is about to emerge as the earnest  champion of moderate Irish nationalism after an early career spent damaging it.


  • Jane

    One possible good outcome, and it’s totally dependent on everybody behaving in a grown up way, and therefore highly unlikely, but if, and its a massive if, but if the DUP saw this as an opportunity to widen their support within NI, then they might try to come up with a deal that benefits NI in a more general way, and act super mature and grown up.I don’t know enough to know if that’s possible, but I do like to take an optimistic view on these things………….but last time I did that I thought May might be quite good at being Prime Minister, so ignore me.

  • file

    If Arlene and May are smart – and the evidence suggest otherwise – this situation offers an opportunity to get Arlene out of the corner she has painted herself into over RHI. Say she is offered some sort of junior minister role in the actual UK government (in some obscure department where she cannot do any harm): she could then take up that role, use that as the reason for not nominating herself as first minister of NI and credibly claim that she was not giving in to SF demands that she step aside.

    With that blockage out of the way, then ALL the DUP has to do is agree to all the things they had already agreed to do (so no loss of face there either), promise they actually know what power-sharing means now and then, maybe, Stormont negotiations can go somewhere?

  • Eoin Fogarty

    Only problem is shes not an mp. I wouldnt think its possible for her to get a ministry

  • 1729torus

    There needs to be mechanisms for ensuring that the British government in NI is reasonably impartial and doesn’t act stupid, and to ameliorate this lacuna in future.

    First, elect MPs by STV to ensure that extreme parties are sidelined somewhat in Westminster.

    Second, any nominee for the office of SoS must be confirmed by an absolute majority of NI MPs. He or she must appear at public confirmation hearings before a panel of NI MPs. To ensure that a nominee can’t ignore one faction, a supermajority should be required at first, which would be gradually whittled down. The first confirmation vote would require 70% of NI MPs to vote in favour, reducing by 5% each time until only 50% is required. If a nominee failed to pass a vote, there would be a requirement for 72 hours to pass before another confirmation vote could be held to avoid railroading.

    Third, the British government must privately consult with Dublin before putting forward candidates for the office of SoS, and seek Dublin’s opinion on any nominee.

    Fourth, if an executive cannot be formed within say 30 days after an election, there should be a formal procedure for holding negotiations, as distinct from the current ad hoc mess. The SoS should, after consulting with the Irish government and NI parties, draft a rough programme for government and propose a framework for negotiations. He would not be able to actually proceed with formal negotiations until he was able get a provisional PfG and negotiating framework endorsed by a majority of NI MPs. He may nominate another person to act as a formateur instead of himself with the consent of a majority of NI MPs, after consulting with Dublin.

    Finally, if an executive cannot be formed after say 120 days, the SoS should take over the government himself until one can be formed, with the Assembly continuing to act as a legislature and scrutinising the executive as usual. He should propose an annual budget to the Assembly after consulting with Dublin and seeking the consent of a majority of NI MPs. Every single law should need a 60% majority to pass to ensure cross-community support in this case.

  • Korhomme

    You don’t need to be a lord or an MP to be a minister, though it is very unusual.

    In the 1960s, Patrick Gordon Walker was Harold Wilson’s choice for Foreign Secretary; although he lost his seat at the election which Wilson won, PGW was still appointed. PGW fought a by-election a few months later, but lost. Only then did he resign.

  • aquifer

    What harm could it do? People could form an anti DUP/Tory campaign outside of the political parties and vote strategically to get them out, perhaps as part of a longer term campaign to get PR for Westminster elections.

  • aquifer

    “the heavy patronising and overmonstering of the DUP in the media as a substitute for genuine inquiry. It has sometimes felt like borderline racism.”

    Yep the Tabloids are the tabloids and the Brits are often blind to NI anyhow, not appreciating how the divisions here are intimately related to their own history. How often do they ask how we survived a sectarian terrorist campaign and stayed civilised, for the most part? The DUP may need counselling more than monstering, though often it was those who stayed in their own faith communities who were least at risk from harm and less fit to claim victimhood.

  • Ian Rate

    I like your thinking, Arlene would jump at the chance of being SoS for NI and get rid of Mr Brokenshire.

  • Granni Trixie

    Change the record. New context.

  • Jimmy

    It pushes off any boundary changes for the next few years as the change would be getting rid of South Belfast, the new home of Emma Little-Pengelly.

  • aquifer

    My guess is that the DUP will now take as much as they can from this, which is OK until Labour get back in sometime later, when a swing back towards favouring nationalism can be much more damaging. Playing Russian roulette with the Union has become a specialty of the DUP, but it is a poor choice of hobby.

  • Karl

    The RHI invrstigation still has to report. I know on Slugger that people have said its a waste of time and have pre decided Arlenes innocence. However, it NIs warped polity, what people see as innocence in this little bubble could be viewed as dishonest, dodgy or downright incompetent outside it. In the grown up world of London politics, all these things taint a politician significantly.
    Are the Tories aware of this? Are the DUP? Or are ministerial limousines just too powerful a draw?

  • Jag

    “I find myself wincing at the heavy patronising and overmonstering of the DUP in the media as a substitute for genuine inquiry. It has sometimes felt like borderline racism.”

    Just you wait another three weeks Brian. Orangemen behaving like savages at interface marches, the Brits will get a shock when they see what some call “bonfires” in N Ireland, homes burned down with grannies crying in the embers, DUP marching alongside UDA, another UDA killing. And for once, the British press will establish a narrative and report it all in glorious detail, probably to destabilise May and this teetering government, but still.

    Sometimes, you need a stranger to tell you “this is not right”, “this is not normal”. The Southern media has never been that motivated. The Northern media is overwhelmed and can’t see the wood from the trees. British media, particularly when they’re pursuing an agenda close to home, will do more to expose this craphole in the next month than Irish media has done in the past 4 decades. “Sorry, what do you mean the council and police won’t remove this stack of pallets and tyres, multi-agency what?”

  • Karl

    Labour govt – soft nationalists satiated
    Conservative govt – soft nationalists agitated
    Conservative / DUP govt outside EU – soft nationalists seriously weigh up benefits of union against ROI in EU.

    This is not a good thing from a unionist point of view. Once again, winning tactically and losing strategically. The DUP will now be required to support a govt during the most politically turbulent time since the Suez crisis. There is no way they will come out of this with an enhanced reputation.
    The magnifying glass that the national media will turn on them will dig up and sensationalise all their foibles that are accepted in NI.

    From a nationalist point of view, unification is nearer because of this coalitions ability to involve the British electorate directly in the same way that FF and FG became engaged in the possiblilty of unification seriously for the first time by Brexit, so too will having the DUP in power engage the British electorate to make it clear that the DUP are an anachronistic throwback to a time they dont believe should exist.

  • Karl

    It probably doesnt. The Tories need the boundary changes.
    However if not, agreed nationalist candidates are likely to take both north and south belfast in 5 years time. The SDLP have a reason to agree a pact.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Truly delusional thinking. The DUP/UDA have seldom shown either the ability or the wish to compromise about anything. There will be no turning on this now. This will, I hope, eventually destroy the credibility of the tory party in the UK for decades.

  • babyface finlayson

    So have we got a good title for them yet, in the tradition of MArlene or Billary?
    I have been rummaging in my pun box for a bit but the best I can do is
    ‘MayD-UP’ government.
    Anyone come up with anything better?

  • Jimmy

    The Tories won’t get the majority for Boundary Changes though. Many of their own team wont want to lose their seats.

  • John Collins

    Yes indeed . Both Sean Moylan and James Dooge were ministers, in the South, while they were not elected to the Dail. So there are precedents in at least one other jurisdiction.

  • runnymede

    The boundary change act will be changed now. Back to 650 seats ie a standard review on the old rules. The DUP will insist on that. That will make it easy to get through.

  • Korhomme

    The problem with a Minister who is not a member of either chamber is simple; he/she cannot be held to account. They have to send a junior flunky. That works for a short time only.

    In the UK, a senior Minister can’t realistically be a member of the Lords (for the same reason).

  • Ian Rate

    As we now know no deal has been totally agreed yet , what will the DUP be doing on their day of rest.
    If like me they have been looking at the Twitter feeds and the morning TV paper reviews, there is a chance that they, the DUP, consider the Tory party under Mrs May too toxic to go into government with.
    With the 22 committee insisting on meeting the PM tomorrow before her talks with the DUP on Tuesday I don’t know which party is holding its nose the tightest.

    We live in interesting times.

  • Roger

    The Thursday election must surely show there is no signs of Nationalists about to become majority….Combined, their vote is lower than it was years ago.

  • Roger

    The UK gov is not going to consult the Ireland gov over SoS appointment; never.

  • lizmcneill

    How can it be racism for the British press and British public to criticise the British DUP?

  • jporter

    “Finally, and I never thought I’d have to say this, I find myself wincing at the heavy patronising and overmonstering of the DUP in the media as a substitute for genuine inquiry. It has sometimes felt like borderline racism.”

    Why? You’ve already acknowledged that –

    “Many people must be horrified at the image of Northern Ireland being presented. But yes, folks, you live in an obsessively introverted world and that’s what you look like to outsiders who have barely noticed you beyond recoiling from the late Paisley’s guldering.”

    I find myself regularly wincing at the chasm between how we see ourselves and how others see us, never mind the facts of endless scandals and incompetence.
    Sinn Fein are well known to the British press for obvious reasons, whereas the DUP have largely been ignored until now.
    A monstering in the press is no less than what we should expect.

  • Barry Bodhran

    wrong..theres a fairly big anti-sinn fein Republican electorate who wont consider voting for sinn fein under any circumstances..let alone nationalists who have zero interest in british elections in the north of Ireland…border poll where it becomes a numbers game.. different kettle of fish..

  • ted hagan

    Paisley was ignored? He’s one of the only politicians the English recognised.

  • ted hagan

    Because they’re Irish and the British tend not to know the difference. To them Irish politicians are all ‘Paddys’ and a pain in the backside. Haven’t you learned that?

  • ted hagan

    Few have declared Arlene Foster innocent over RHI and an inquiry has been established, as demanded. It’s just that nationalists are flogging a dead horse with the demand for her step down, and they know it.
    Time for some fresh thinking. The ‘Arlene Monster’ routine is played out now.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I think Liz was being ironic.

  • Jamieson

    ConneD-UP? TArlene? MAY-ster (too Game of Thrones?)

  • Jamieson

    Look at the election results on the 6-county map. From a Unionist perspective, Northern Ireland is shrinking. Sinn Fein won every constituency along the border, a republican majority in a first-past-the-post election. If the five border constituencies and Mid Ulster united with the Republic, the Unionists could enjoy a majority in a New Northern Ireland statelet for another generation. A ridiculous argument, I know, but along the same logic as partition.

  • Roger

    The Belfast Agreement, amongst other things, rules out repartition.

  • Roger

    You’ve said nothing to contradict that combined nat vote is lower than years ago…

  • Barry Bodhran

    read my point…its simple..theres a sizeable Nationalist/Republican vote out there that doesnt bother with british elections in Ireland..whats so hard to understand

  • file

    Which part of the record? Supporters of SF still do not want them anywhere near Stormont until previous deasl have been implemented and until they have shown they know how to do power-sharing.

  • file

    They would give her ministry of silly walks or something. Something she cannot burn her fingers on a la RHI.