In the fudge over the border that Mick has just correctly described, reaction to Arlene Foster’s role is divided. The Guardian has grudging admiration for her principled stand rooted in her background as a border Protestant with traumatic experience.
In the Irish Times Fintan O’Toole continues to get carried away by his euphoria at what he plausibly sees as Britain’s continuing humiliation by the EU, with the added delicious irony of the DUP as the EU’s unholy accessory. It’s another fun piece, but like the first exulting in how little Ireland embedded in the concert of Europe is now more powerful than humbled, self-isolated Britain, O’Toole’s analysis is rooted too deeply in Ireland’s understandable anti-imperialism of a century ago and its irrelevance to the international scene up to the moment the UK joined the EU in 1973 along with its then dependent neighbour.
What O’Toole forgets is that humiliation and even defeat are the occupational hazard of international players. Consider the mighty US over Vietnam and the searing humiliation of the Iranian hostages ; Britain’s close shave after appeasement before 1939 and her humiliation in 1963 when de Gaulle suddenly vetoed her application to join the very grouping she now wants to quit.
If you’re a player you get hurt. If you’re up in the stands, you gloat or you vent.
It’s how you bounce back from humiliation that counts, as O’Toole might further reflect after inveighing against Ireland’s surrender of sovereignty at the hands of the troika.
Where does Arlene fit into all this (powerfully reinforced, let’s not foget, by Nigel)?
If humiliation it was, Theresa May brought most of it on her own head on account of the erratic improvisation and dithering that is the inevitable product of the government’s chronic indecision over the whole Brexit process.
In that can of worms, from their own point of view the DUP did what they had to do and no more. Haughty shock in Europe deploring the DUP’s influence is humbug. Most of them have far more experience of precarious government than the UK. According to the Times, Simon Case one of the British negotiators in Brussels who once served in the NIO was drafted in to liaise with the DUP and that may have helped.
But how could the DUP have behaved otherwise? In fact they played a measured hand. They sanctioned the signing on Friday but have not actually endorsed the detail.
Unwittingly perhaps, the DUP may have done them all a favour.
The British media seem to understand this and have generally refrained from handing out the pasting they gave the DUP when the confidence and supply deal was first struck.
In the fudge on the border the DUP had written in
the essential statement on the link with Great Britain.
Continuing alignment is either uncontestably in the North’s interest or currently inactive where north-south cooperation is moribund.
Any change lies the Assembly’s hands where they would have at least a suspensory veto.
Alignment with the internal market and the customs union would be the happy outcome of a comprehensive free trade deal for the whole UK. Leave to others and the future how this could be reconciled with new trade deals with third countries. Mrs May has at least managed to herd her divided party into the pen for the next stage of the negotiations. A walk-out would have been disastrous forboth parts of Ireland.
The smart thing to do strategically now would be to fire up the Assembly and the north- south bodies to anticipate whatever is the outcome of Brexit.
For the DUP today, the penny has surely dropped that dramatic vetoes are not enough.
Let Leo Varadkar have his moment of triumph. But for the North to stand a chance of moving on, southern crowing has to stop.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London