The DUP’s conference has made it clear that the Prime Minister’s EU “deal” is dead.
When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister there were high hopes and expectations that he would deliver on Brexit, and do so sensibly.
Time and time again he repeated his commitment that the UK would leave the EU with or without a deal by 31st October.
He engaged in fresh negotiations with the EU and when a “deal” was finally agreed with the EU, Downing Street spun it as a major success. Boris Johnson had apparently achieved the “impossible” and had negotiated what was hailed as a “very good deal.”
The spin was so well done that the small band of dedicated Tory Brexiteer MPs, who normally scrutinise such important points with a fine toothcomb, instead abandoned such efforts in favour of scrambling to support this “deal.” It was all part of attempts to rush this Bill through Parliament before MPs woke up to the details and implications of it. This ploy very nearly worked.
The fact that it failed was clearly down to ten DUP MPs in the House of Commons who supported the Oliver Letwin amendment. This effectively enabled the Bill to have more scrutiny. It would have gone the other way if the DUP had voted differently. Although this amendment was clearly a Remain inspired one, that did not mean it had no merits.
Boris Johnson went from Rising Star to falling one
Last year at the DUP conference, Boris Johnson had been warmly welcomed as a keynote speaker, and had made commitments which he has clearly gone back on since then.
To the DUP, to renege on such commitments is simply beyond the pale.
Indeed in the final stages of negotiating the UK’s latest “deal” with the EU, the DUP were kept in the dark about the finer points of aspects which affected the integrity of the UK and the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.
It became apparent that Boris Johnson was prepared to ditch the DUP in order to get a deal.
In fact he appeared to be desperate to achieve a “deal,” almost any deal, as long as he could say he had one.
Boris Johnson’s strategy seemed to be to recruit Remainer MPs into supporting this “deal” which they knew was one in name only, in order to get it passed. It did in theory, but in practice it would have been subject to amendments and in any event would never have passed the final Parliamentary hurdles. This is seemingly why the Bill has been “paused” by the PM.
DUP re-thinking their support for the government?
The DUP, as a Leave supporting party, had been more than flexible in supporting the Conservatives, firstly under Theresa May, and then under Boris Johnson, in their Brexit negotiations with the EU.
In fact it has been said they have been too flexible and that maybe the UK would have been out of the EU by now, if DUP leader Arlene Foster had been part of the negotiating team.
This DUP conference was the first one since the party’s “confidence and supply” agreement with the Conservatives that no Tory MPs were speaking. At the past two conferences, key Tory MPs have made speeches. It is a measure of how low the trust in the Tories is, that this situation has come about.
The DUP will use their votes to defeat the government
The Rt. Hon Arlene Foster MLA, said in her conference speech that the government had not been honest with them, and that a one nation approach needed to be taken in future EU negotiations.
She said the DUP would use their votes to defeat the government, and that the Prime Minister needed to reopen the negotiations with the EU in order to ensure there was an acceptable Brexit outcome.
The DUP leader in the House of Commons, Nigel Dodds, MP, said in his speech that the Brexit “deal” was one of “economic and constitutional madness.”
On the subject of a General Election, Arlene Foster said they were ready for it, even though the results could be unpredictable. She is correct on that because though the DUP could even win an increase in seats, the dynamics of Northern Ireland politics could mean that they could also lose a couple of seats.
Their key emphasis is of “standing strong in the Union” and Arlene Foster said that although “the challenge ahead is great,” “the determination is greater.”
She reiterated the benefits of the additional £1billion which had been committed by the UK government to Northern Ireland and that this is delivered for all in Northern Ireland.
She put forward a new vision of Unionism which was not based on two traditions, but of one of unison of the benefits for everyone of being part of the UK.
As part of her policy re-think, she embraced the concept of the DUP being a party of ideas and not of ideology .
It is clear that the DUP are a formidable and principled party and any political party which crosses them does so at their peril.
If there is no General Election, the Prime Minister will have to work with the DUP on achieving Brexit.
If there is one, it is simply a game of dice, but Boris Johnson stands as much chance of diminishing his MPs numbers as increasing them, especially with The Brexit Party also condemning his Brexit Bill.
It is therefore not necessarily in the DUP’s interests to agree to an early Election, but they have always put the interests of the UK first, and this will play a large part in their decision on that vote.