The DUP is Not Okay

by Benjamin Studebaker

Not to be discouraged by a hung parliament, British Prime Minister Theresa May now intends to govern with the aid of the DUP, the “Democratic Unionist Party” of Northern Ireland. This is unbelievably reckless and puts the security and future of the British people at risk.

There are many issues with DUP that make it unpalatable as a governing partner. Many will immediately notice that DUP’s positions on social issues are wildly out of step with the British public’s. As recently as 2015, the DUP’s health minister was saying things like:

The gay lobby is insatiable, they don’t know when enough is enough.

Just last year, a DUP assemblyman admitted that he didn’t know it was possible for heterosexual people to contract HIV. The party continues to oppose gay marriage and has vetoed it multiple times in Northern Ireland. It’s against abortion. One of its environment ministers has described climate change as a “con”. Multiple senior party members are creationists who believe creationism should be taught in state schools. One DUP assemblyman is an admitted young earth creationist–he believes the planet is only 6,000 years old:

My view on the earth is that it’s a young earth. My view is 4000 BC.

But while these views are troubling, the most pressing concern with the DUP is what they intend to extract from the Tories in exchange for their support:

The DUP’s “price” for propping up a new Tory government will include a promise that there will be no post-Brexit special status for Northern Ireland, the party’s leader in Westminster has confirmed.

If Northern Ireland will not have a special status, this would seem to mean one of two things must be true:

  1. The Tories intend to agree to Brexit terms which do not put an end to free movement or British inclusion in the single market. May has hinted at an “implementation period” for ending free movement, but the Conservative Party’s manifesto promises restrictions on immigration from the EU, and the EU has indicated that it will not agree to keep Britain in the single market if it rejects free movement. Many Tory supporters would likely be upset with the government if it fails to keep its promises about immigration.
  2. The Tories intend to U-turn on their manifesto pledges to maintain open borders and open trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland, closing the borders and/or leaving the single market and creating a situation in which Ireland and Northern Ireland must pay tariffs on one another’s goods and/or get visas to cross borders.

Specifically, with respect to the Irish border, the Tories said:

We will maintain the Common Travel Area and maintain as frictionless a border as possible for people, goods and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

While also saying:

Leaving the European Union means, for the first time in decades, that we will be able to control immigration from the European Union too. We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come
to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs.

This was always a messy pledge–how can the UK control immigration if EU citizens can move freely to Ireland and then freely cross the Irish border into the UK? It could only work if Ireland had some kind of bizarre special status which allowed movement between Ireland and Northern Ireland but impeded movement between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. But this is precisely what DUP appears to have rejected. Yet at the same time, DUP claims it wants to keep the Irish border open.

If May is going to keep the Irish border open without giving Northern Ireland special status, she’d have to retain free movement for the UK. If she’s not going to retain free movement, she’d have to close the Irish border. Either way, someone is going to be very upset here. If she bends on free movement, UKIP could rise from the dead to break off large numbers of Tory voters once again. If she closes the Irish border and/or allows the return of tariffs, the Good Friday Agreement could fall apart and the troubles could return. It’s not clear that DUP is committed to upholding the peace. It opposed the Good Friday Agreement during the 1998 referendum. Even in recent years, DUP has been linked to unionist paramilitary groups–earlier this very month, DUP’s leader, Arlene Foster, met with UDA (Ulster Defence Association) leaders mere days after the organisation was linked to the murder of a man in a supermarket car park in front of that man’s three year old son. UDA is listed as a “proscribed group linked to Northern Ireland related terrorism” under the Terrorism Act of 2000, but Foster made no mention of the incident and did not urge the group to disband.

By working with the DUP, May puts herself in a position where she must either renege on the Brexit promises which are most critical for her English supporters or subject Northern Ireland to a level of stress likely to produce renewed cycles of violence. DUP’s inclusion in and of itself may embolden its paramilitary associates in the UDA to engage in more terrorist activity and to flout both the letter and the spirit of the peace agreement. If violence gets going again, there’s no reason to think it will be contained to Northern Ireland. As tragic as the recent spate of terrorist incidents have been, they pale in comparison with the endemic death visited upon Britain during the troubles:

If the Conservatives and DUP cooperate May will either betray her own supporters or she’ll rattle a hornet’s nest, all so that she and her party can cling on to the levers of government. Just as they did with the Brexit referendum and the snap election, the Conservatives are once again gambling the country’s stability in a bid to maintain their power. DUP does not belong in or anywhere near a British government. May’s willingness to effectively give DUP veto power over any Brexit deal illustrates that she is not capable of negotiating from a secure political position and will act out of desperation. A Conservative/DUP partnership–whether formal or informal–will be weak and unstable, and it certainly won’t be in the national interest. For the good of the country, the Conservatives must act to remove May and schedule a new election so that they or their opponents can secure the comfortable majority necessary to effectively carry out negotiations in the national interest.