The DUP are finally at loggerheads with Mrs May over how to protect “the precious Union”

What an Alice in Wonderland response from the DUP to Theresa May’s belated opening out to the opposition. Robert Peston tells us:

According to ministers, the defining issue (of Mrs May’s apparent pivot to Labour and a soft Brexit)  was that if there was a no-deal Brexit “we’d have to go to direct rule in Northern Ireland” says one. “Disaster. Huge risk. Of all legacies, the break-up of the Union [of the UK], the worst for a PM. She’ll never do no deal now”. And I am told that “Andrea [Leadsom] requested that we go ahead with the risk of direct rule but call it something else.

You don’t have to be David Trimble, Owen Paterson or even Nigel Dodds to complain how real issues on the ground are turned into codes in the Brexit wars in Westminster and Brussels which have only incidental connexions with the real situations back in Ireland-land.. The threat of violence on any border checkpoints is real enough. But that has been inflated into sounding the alarm against the idea that any check anywhere within two hundred miles of the border is either technically feasible  for decades or a mortal threat to the GFA. And so Jeremy Corbyn  piously sets as one of his conditions for talking to Theresa May: “We’re also very clear that there has to be an absolute guarantee that the Good Friday Agreement is maintained for peace in Northern Ireland,” which if it means anything is presumably support for the backstop.

That may get the DUP’s goat. But do they really imagine that Mrs May was ever going to kill it off short of supporting the No Deal they profess to oppose? Removing the backstop has become one of the articles of faith that contradicts reality, like Vardkar’s open border while defending the single market , in which the DUP share with him the pretence of believing.

“Direct rule” has become a bogey phrase to frighten the childer the way “ Cromwell” used to be.   Are we really expected to believe that nationalists would rise up in revolt if British minsters started paying out compensation to abuse victims or sorting out hospital waiting lists in arrangements signed off by Dublin because Strand One is “ temporarily “ suspended? That bogey is simply an excuse for doing nothing because they‘re sulking over Ireland’s Brexit strategy.

And now with Mrs May drawn into talks about endorsing the customs union which would scale down the “ border in the Irish Sea” as Ken Clarke tried to explain to them patiently last night,  how do the  DUP respond?

The Prime Minister’s lamentable handling of the negotiations with the EU means she has failed to deliver a sensible Brexit deal that works for all parts of the UK.”

The DUP add there is  ‘little surprise that the PM has done what she has done after ‘lamentable’ handling of Brexit and they accuse her of ‘subcontracting the process’ to Jeremy Corbyn.

The DUP are plainly furious that their stranglehold over Mrs May may be about to be broken and with it the very basis of the confidence and supply agreement.   But the rest of us are bound to ask: what use is their veto when it continues deadlock up to  the point of No Deal and creates a potential long term threat to the Union with Scotland and Northern Ireland?

In Scotland the forces are already mustering for Indyref2 whether Westminster likes it or not.  They’re flirting with  the argument that as May ignored the Remain votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, so Scotland might bypass the legal requirement for Westminster’s permission to hold another independence referendum. This brings them into the territory of the Dail a century ago.

A medium term threat to the Union is real enough. The DUP are finally at loggerheads with the prime minister over how to meet it, just as different priorities were exposed in last Friday’s  vote  when leading ERG MPs like Rees Mogg deserted the DUP to vote for the withdrawal agreement.

There’s no meeting of minds between Mrs May’s fear that “No Deal would lead to the break up of the Union and I  don’t  want that to happen on my watch. “ and  the DUP’s  rejection of her latest attempts to prevent it.  Uncertain as her moves and motives may be, they are more convincing than the DUP’s. Perhaps all that flattery about their wonderful negotiating skills turned their heads and led them to suppress their doubts. Whatever.  The DUP  are reverting  to less than splendid isolation.






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