Will the DUP demand a new PM as the price of keeping the Tories in power? Enter Boris Johnson – or Sajid Javid?

The DUP’s support for the government is hanging by a thread, or at least for Theresa May,  if only they can find the means of severing it . Arlene Foster has spoken of the prime minister in the scathing language of antique patriotism the DUP reserves for special opponents:

Despite the prime minister being warned about the opposition to her withdrawal agreement, she has limped along and tried to force people into a cul-de-sac where they have no option but to support her deal…  That is a weak approach and demeans the strength of this great nation.”  enunciating  “nay-shun” for extra emphasis.

The reason for such presumptuous contempt lies in DUP fears that the talks between the government and the Labour party could render DUP support for the government redundant or even open up the prospect of a Corbyn-led government. The immediate cause is that the No Deal option has receded which although the DUP profess not to approve of it, it  implies no border down the Irish Sea; whereas the backstop survives.

Mrs May, they seem to believe, should have called the EU’s bluff rather than surrender to their terms. The EU backed away from their demand for a clear British plan in exchange for an extension of Article 50; and they didn’t they carry out their threat to set conditions on new British MEPs.  So they would also have backed down over the backstop too, wouldn’t they?

Nigel Dodds

Until yesterday, the EU was saying very clearly that unless there was a credible plan for an election or a referendum, or a prospect of getting the withdrawal agreement through soon, it would not grant an extension, and that if it did, there would be stringent conditions. In fact, it held to neither of those statements. When it was faced with the unpalatable choice of a no deal, it backed down. Will the Prime Minister learn the lesson of that?

The Prime Minister

We have consistently sought to change the withdrawal agreement, and in particular to change the backstop. The right hon. Gentleman will know full well that we have argued on many occasions for a time limit or a unilateral exit clause, or the replacement of the withdrawal agreement by alternative arrangements.

At every stage, we have been working to secure changes in the withdrawal agreement. The European Union has been clear—

Nigel Dodds

It has backed down.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman says that the EU has backed down. Yesterday I did put the case in relation to conditionality to which he refers, and there was discussion around the table about the issue. The aspect on which I think everyone around the table focused is that, legally, there is only a single tier of membership of the European Union, and the EU rejected the concept of conditionality on that basis.

This is how the exchanges struck Huffpost’s Paul Waugh.

Watching the PM in the chamber yesterday, what really struck me was the almost withering contempt with which she handled her Brexiteer critics, whether they were in her own party or the DUP. She openly laughed at Bill Cash’s call for her to resign, brushed aside Peter Bone’s Brexit delay attack, and angrily rounded on Sammy Wilson for suggesting she had not got a single concession from Brussels. Dressed in funereal black, May felt like she was reading the last rites on her tolerance of hard Brexiteer dissent.

With contempt from Foster came a hooded warning from Dodds.

On the issue of extensions, will the Prime Minister also bear in mind that the current Session of Parliament is—I understand—due to end fairly soon? There is some talk of extending it beyond two years. I think that many in the House, including those on this Bench, would consider that unacceptable.

What’s that about? The DUP’s confidence and supply arrangement with the government, negotiated two years ago last month ends with the current session of parliament, now all of two years old. Rumours are circulating that Mrs May is intending  to extend the session to beyond the 31 October deadline to allow maximum  time for Parliament as a whole to reach an agreement, thereby reducing the DUP’s leverage. More usually the session would wrap up in the summer with a vote of confidence in the Queen’s speech, presenting  the DUP with either the chance to topple the government or striking a tough new deal.

Unless the legally binding NI specific backstop is replaced, the DUP are unmoved by  the revival of the Stormont lock promising  regulatory alignment with GB and giving  the Assembly a say and a seat at the table over any future changes in the relationship with the EU.

The DUP are faced with the problem that the Stormont lock is a British only pledge for the final settlement, whereas the legally binding backstop deals with the interim period to December 2021 or up to the point when the final settlement is made. Ironically the DUP’s fear is similar to Labour’s over the withdrawal agreement; that a new British government could renege on the Stormont lock. Even so it is hard to see how it could be improved short of the UK remaining in the EU.

The Stormont lock provides

  • Strong role for the Assembly in approving any new commitments
  • a guarantee that the UK will ensure that all engagement and dialogue under the governance arrangements applying to the Withdrawal Agreement will be consistent with the well-established three stranded approach set out in the Belfast Agreement, with no change to the role of the UK or Irish Governments;
  •  Outline measures to guarantee the integral place of Northern Ireland in the UK economy, guaranteeing the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the rest of the UK;
  • Ensure there would be no divergence in practice between the rules in Great Britain and NI covered by the Protocol in any scenario in which the backstop took effect.

The “Stormont lock” is in reality a unsatisfactory device to overcome the intractable contradictions of the border.

First, GB parties would hardly for long  tolerate the tail wagging the dog, of saying in lockstep with NI every time the EU made a change to their trading and regulatory relationships.

Secondly, even if Assembly was restored,  could they arrive at a cross community decision?

And thirdly, the EU itself dislikes  the backstop as it leaves too much discretion to the UK to comply.

Rather than trying to blackmail Mrs May, the DUP would do better to concentrate on what they want out of the political declaration, or else campaign for Remain as Dodds found himself suggesting while ago before  catching himself on.

And so the DUP are talking not only to Michel Barnier but to their old stand up performer at the last DUP conference Boris Johnson who is presumably their favourite  to succeed Theresa May. Will they demand Boris for PM as  the price of keeping the Tories in power?

DUP chiefs have held private talks with Boris Johnson and his Tory leadership campaign team as Theresa May faces repeated challenges to her dwindling authority… It was disclosed later that Mrs Foster and Nigel Dodds, the DUP deputy leader, had met Mr Johnson and members of his team in the Commons for 40 minutes on Wednesday. This was the latest encounter between the DUP leadership and candidates to replace Mrs May, according to a source, who said that prospective Tory leaders were keen to “pay homage” to the party critical to the survival of a Conservative government… The DUP is also privately sceptical that Mrs May can be forced out through any measure short of collective cabinet action. The confidence and supply arrangement between the Tories and the DUP is up for review at the end of the present session in June. It will need to be back in place to ensure that a Conservative government can pass legislation at the start of the next term.

In their search for a reliable partner, good luck with that.

Or maybe they’ll go for Sajid Javid, as the D Telegraph  fans the flames of hard Brexiteer and DUP paranoia  that the backstop is an Irish plot.  Owen Paterson and David Trimble will be chuffed.

Sajid Javid has drawn up a detailed technological plan to do away with the Irish backstop but it has been suspended by the Treasury to the fury of Brexiteers.

The Home Secretary commissioned Border Force officials to work up a plan using Swiss-style technology to manage trade and tariffs and so avoid a hard border in Ireland.

The work was submitted to HMRC but allies of Mr Javid claimed officials were “incredibly dismissive of it and were not interested.”

“We tried to talk to HMRC about it for eight months,” the source said. “We said there were big hurdles to get past but we didn’t think they were insurmountable.”

If Javid were to run in a Tory leadership contest or be elected leader his plan to stop a hard border would likely form a key plank of his agenda…

Plans drawn up by the Home Secretary’s policy unit and submitted to HMRC earlier this year set out the “art of the possible” for the Irish border.

Companies would upload data about their cargo into a “digital portal” while artificial intelligence would be used to build a “risk profile based on goods, route and drivers”.

Automatic number plate recognition would be used to track vehicles. The plans state: “It all these technologies are brought together, this could allow a seamless collection and analysis of the data needed. It would also provide the ability to target interventions away from the border itself.”

Officials acknowledge that the project is likely to be “big and complex” and will require significant investment in technology to avoid having physical infrastructure at the border. “The challenge of this work cannot be underestimated,” the document said….

However The Telegraph has learned that ministers believe Sir Keir Starmer is being deliberately “obstructive” because he wants a second referendum.

In response Labour sources accused the Tories of “to offer anything substantially different to a deal that has been rejected no less than three times by Parliament.”

It came as Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, has written to other Cabinet ministers warning them that Britain could leave without a deal on May 31.

The Government faced a backlash on Friday from Tory Eurosceptics after announcing that emergency no deal plans, known as Operation Yellowhammer, are being wound down.



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