Ruth Davidson’s threat to quit changes the odds for the DUP

When the history of these fraught days comes to be written, the backing of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson for the DUP position may be seen as the single most significant move. Her message is potent; if Northern Ireland is differentiated from GB , why not Scotland from England and Wales?  And that’s a gift to the SNP  and the cause of Scottish independence.

Details emerged this afternoon of the letter she and Scottish secretary David Mundell sent to Theresa May. It removes part of the reactionary taint from the DUP’s image.  In personal terms Davidson couldn’t be more different from Foster – liberal minded with a light touch and a big smile, self confident and a great communicator, so good that she might have had the future leadership of the entire Conservative party for the asking had she not rejected the idea;  gay and expecting a baby;, and above all, a leading Remainer in Remainer Scotland. Her opposition to differentiating Northern from GB in its relationship to the EU also brings the future of the Union centre stage.

What alternative  backstop does she suggest?

Scottish Secretary David Mundell and Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson say they will not accept Northern Ireland being treated differently.

In a letter to the prime minister, they said the integrity of the UK “remains the single most important issue for us” and cannot be undermined by any withdrawal agreement with the EU.

“Having fought just four years ago to keep our country together, the integrity of our United Kingdom remains the single most important issue for us in these negotiations.

“Any deal that delivers a differentiated settlement for Northern Ireland beyond the differences that already exist on an all Ireland basis (eg Agriculture), or can be brought under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement, would undermine the integrity of our UK internal market and this United Kingdom.”

The letter adds: “We could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the Union or leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, beyond what currently exists.”

A source close to Ms Davidson said the issue was a “red line” for her, while a source close to Mr Mundell told the BBC: “If you find yourself not agreeing with government policy” resigning would be the “logical outcome”.

The letter emerged as Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab dashed over to Brussels to try to seal an outline deal with Michel Barnier before Tuesday’s fateful cabinet meeting against the background of almost intolerable pressure on Mrs May. Will the EU side be impressed and reach out a helping hand?

The FT reports

( The EU side ) is making special arrangements for Northern Ireland, whose economy could sit in the EU’s sphere of influence in order to avoid a hard border emerging with the Republic of Ireland. The precise terms of this “backstop” plan will be the main drama of the coming week. One senior EU diplomat said “we have what we need”, adding that even France seemed relaxed with the broad divorce terms. Attention is turning to choreography that will best help Mrs May. “We are happy to do everything we can to help her sell it,” the diplomat said.

The aim seems to be to clinch a deal and face May’s cabinet dissidents and the DUP with a take It or leave it ultimatum before the cabinet meeting on Tuesday . If so and despite false alarms, it hasn’t succeeded on Sunday night.  That darn backstop is hanging round their necks!


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