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James Yucel

Writer

In the early hours of 9 June 2017, a source from the Democratic Unionist Party told journalists "For as long as Corbyn leads Labour, we will ensure there’s a Tory PM." This seething confidence from a party with only 10 seats in the Commons sent shockwaves throughout Westminster - an anti-abortion and gay-rights party were now the Kingmakers of British politics.

Fast-forward two-and-a-half years, and this party (one of once unshakable confidence under Arlene Foster) have now backed themselves into a corner of powerlessness and irrelevance. Fresh from a defeat in the Northern Irish Assembly, having failed to block legislation legalising abortion and gay marriage, the party's standing in this election is unstable. So, what's next for the DUP?

One man who claims he can answer that question is Steve Aiken, the only candidate nominated to stand in the Ulster Unionist Party’s impending leadership election, scheduled to take place next month. The UUP, the DUP's biggest rivals in the unionist branch of Irish politics, don't pose a threat as big as Aiken would like it to, at least in this election. Most would agree its chances of winning seats from Foster this December are slim, perhaps apart from the two they lost in 2017.

However, the UUP, a party with similar socially liberal, yet economically conservative stances to prime minister Boris Johnson, could prove to be the real new Kingmakers of Irish politics this year. As our parliamentary democracy operates on a "first-past-the-post" system, it is the candidate with the most votes who is elected a member of parliament. This is crucial in marginal seats such as North Belfast, where the current MP and DUP Commons Leader, Nigel Dodds, is operating on a small majority of just over 2,000 votes. While smaller parties like the UUP could never win a seat like North Belfast, it could steal unionist votes away from the DUP, and allow Sinn Fein - the left-wing, republican party - to slip through the back door and win.

The election to one side, the thing on every pundit's mind at the moment is the DUP's unclear position on Brexit. The DUP are hard-line eurosceptics and advocated Leave in 2016, alongside figures such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. However, in recent months, there has been a significant shift towards Jeremy Corbyn's plans for a soft-Brexit, keeping the UK in the customs union. Foster's initial argument, similar to that of Jeremy Corbyn's, was that the government's deal threatens the Good Friday Agreement passed under Blair in 1999. However, recently the courts have ruled this to be untrue, stating that the government's Withdrawal Agreement Bill does not clash with the GFA.

Since then, we have heard nothing from Foster - other than the government's plans are unacceptable. So what options are the DUP left with?

They could push for a no-deal exit. Whilst ideologically, it is the preferred option, it will most likely get them nowhere in parliament as there is little support for one, losing them a great deal of political capital in the Commons.

They could reluctantly back the government's deal, which may seem like the easy way out, but many think they would suffer at the ballot boxes after switching positions so nonchalantly.

They could back Jeremy Corbyn's proposals of a Norwegian-style customs union arrangement, which would mean swallowing their pride and aligning with a man they described as "intolerable" in 2017.

Or they could back remain, alongside the Lib Dems, SNP and Green Party - which could potentially save them on election day, but would mean casting aside their desire for an independent Britain.

It looks like a lose-lose situation for Foster, but the question remains: can the DUP escape this political labyrinth, or will they, like Icarus, fly too close to the sun, paving the way for a new unionist party in Ireland?



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