Why the DUP will take its time over the deal
The Party doesn't want to be outflanked on the Right
Rishi Sunak used a curious phrase towards the end of his remarks at yesterday’s joint press conference with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. This was: “parties will want to consider the agreement in detail, a process that will need time and care.”
That means that, despite some febrile rumours doing the rounds on social media, both the UK and EU don’t expect Northern Ireland’s largest Unionist party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to make a public decision on the Windsor Framework before Northern Ireland’s local council elections on 18 May. I am confident that a drawn-out process for the DUP accepting a remarkably generous deal from their point of view was squared with London and Brussels beforehand. A drawn-out DUP consultation process, perhaps involving external stakeholders, will allow them to kick the big decision forward for a crucial few months until polling day has passed.
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The reason for that is that a cardinal point of DUP political strategy is never to allow themselves to be outflanked on the Right, in the way that they themselves once outflanked the long-dominant Ulster Unionist Party in the early years of this century. To their Right lies the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), formed and led, ironically, by a former DUP Member of the European Parliament, Jim Allister. It has threatened a breakthrough several times, without ever quite managing it, since being established in 2007 to protest the party going into government with Sinn Féin.
In last year’s Assembly election, the party surged to 7% of the vote, by far its best ever result outside Euro elections. Yet it was so far to the Right — for example, it is coy about whether it would like to recriminalise homosexuality — that it fared poorly in the transferred votes that are crucial in Northern Ireland’s electoral system. In fact, it failed to make a single gain, returning Allister to Stormont on his own for the sixth election in a row. However, even a slight further uptick in their fortunes would see them crossing thresholds in shares of the vote where they need transfers from other parties, which are in any case often lower in council elections to begin with, and potentially taking a decent haul of seats from the DUP.
It may seem extraordinary that Sunak and von der Leyen are spending time worrying about local council seats in Tyrone rather than rockets in Donetsk, but Northern Irish politics is a game of inches. It is often forgotten that the putsch of Ian Paisley as leader of the party he founded began after the DUP lost a substantial number of votes to the TUV in a single council by-election in County Down in 2008.
What even the most politically short-sighted can, however, see is that the DUP now has a huge interest in getting both this deal and Stormont’s institutions of governance to work. A surge in turnout among liberal voters with moderate views on Northern Ireland sovereignty and identity issues since the Brexit referendum has seen Unionist parties’ combined percentage share of the vote fall to the low forties. The Union now, and for the foreseeable future, depends on the votes of centrists who were mostly staunchly opposed to Brexit. London and Brussels hope this deal may allow Northern Ireland’s metropolitan liberals to sleep more easily while assuaging the concerns of the Unionist Right.
It is remarkable that Rishi Sunak seems to have saved the United Kingdom in the last three weeks! First defenestrating Sturgeon by blocking her GRR act and then by fixing the NI Protocol and (probably) getting Stormont back in session.
Indeed. Despite my misgivings due to his fixed-grin approach to his failed leadership campaign, he may just be starting to – if not turn the tide – at least stop it from encroaching further up the beach (and over the Red seawall?)
The securing of this agreement with the EU regarding NI may just be his own “Good Friday” moment, which consolidated Tony Blair (at the time, in 1998) as a political leader who could get things sorted in a diplomatic way.
The Opposition brayed in the Commons yesterday when Sunak praised his predecessor (without naming Boris) for his work over Brexit. I see that process as it stood with regard to NI as a necessary step to achieve the initial Brexit breakthrough, upon which Sunak is now able to build in a different style.
The initial noises coming from the DUP do appear to be stage-managed. They won’t want to be seen to be outflanked by either the Right or by Sunak, but it seems inconceivable they won’t eventually head back into Stormont, with the Brake in their pocket and perhaps another fixed grin for us to countenance.
I think I’ll wait to see the Budget before revising my opinion of Sunak even slightly.
What are the chances you’ll see a significant wealth tax do you suppose?
I hope you’re right. However I fear the main reason the DUP refused to sit is because Sinn Féin will have the First Mininster role and playing second fiddle to SF is too much for the DUP to swallow.. dodo diehards that they are.
Got it in one. Most DUP supporters would be hard-pressed to spell “Protocol”, let alone understand it.
Quite a bit in that MM and a good observation. Think Sturgeon defenestrated herself as much though. Regardless of how Sunak reacted she’d lost the confidence of the Scottish public with that crusade.
Yes she brought it on herself (and may have been looking for an opportunity to bail anyway) but Sunak’s blocking of the legislation was instrumental. He was advised against doing so by lots of perfectly sound commentators but did it anyway. Ditto with this NI Protocol renegotiation. So he has gone up in my estimation both in terms of his judgement and his political skill.
Who knows, maybe the next GE is not yet such a foregone conclusion.
Always believed it would be much closer than many think, or thought, if he got given the time and space by some on his side who were less supportive or never supported his elevation. And like any PM they need a bit of luck too, and the mild winter and lower fuel costs/crisis just perhaps a sign his luck isn’t all bad.
He also seems to have outmanoeuvered Boris Johnson with this deal – and may even end up stealing the label “got Brexit done”. Pretty impressive. I wasn’t at all a fan of Rishi Sunak and didn’t think him very smart as a politician. But perhaps we’ve all underestimated him.
The main factor was to overestimate Lord Frost perhaps?
Sunak is bound to get all the help going from the worldwide political and financial establishment and the supranational WEF/Davos mob. He is after all their candidate, coercively imposed as UK Prime Minister by a gerrymandered Tory party agreement.
I’m glad of the promising results that this appears to be providing for the UK. But it won’t for one moment make me vote Conservative again. They won’t get my support again as long as they’re stuffed with Liberal Left Greens.
So I’ll just take their favours and happily kick them in the teeth at the next election anyway. Reform UK will get my vote.
Look on the bright side: tinfoil will be cheaper under this deal.
The article starts off with the challenge the DUP is facing from those to their right (“The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.“) and concludes with the growth of the liberal left-centre. I’m not saying that is inaccurate in any way, but it comes across as written in haste.
“.. Yet it was so far to the Right — for example, it is coy about whether it would like to recriminalise homosexuality …”
I see nothing “right wing” in this view. It’s just a view, probably held by some people of all political beliefs.
The easy “jump-to” by the writer speaks volumes about his own likely political position though.
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