Tory-DUP partnership: What could this mean?

What do you think could be he most problematic aspect of Tories-DUP partnership? Does this partnership have also some clear advantages for both sides (except, of course the fact they will rule the country)? Read few comments.

Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster. Credit: http://www.mydup.com

Paul Dixon, Reader in Politics and International Studies, Kingston University London

The most problematic aspect of the DUP-Conservative partnership could be the destabilisation of the Northern Ireland peace process. Talks are restarting today to see if power sharing can  be restored to Northern Ireland. Usually the British government attempts to act as mediator. But because of the perception that the Government is now in alliance with the DUP the leading nationalist party, Sinn Fein, may well fear that it will not be treated fairly in negotiations.

The second issue is Brexit. Although the DUP are strong supporters of Brexit they do not support a ‘hard Brexit’ that will increase the visibility of the border in Ireland. If there is a visible border this will antagonise nationalists and could lead to further destabilisation of the peace process.

Finally, the DUP can be populist on economic issues which means that it will want increased resources for Northern Ireland and some of the less popular aspects of Conservative government economic policy removed, such as the bedroom tax. On the other hand the DUP is ‘socially Conservative’ so opposes marriage equality for LGBTQ couples and increasing the availability of abortion. This puts it in conflict with some in the Conservative party, most notably the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Maura Adshead, Associate Professor in Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick

I’m answering from an Irish point of view – not a British one. Presumably from a British point of view, the difficulty is a dispositional one that is structured by their electoral system and the political culture that flows from it. That is, that they typically do not understand politics as an art of pragmatics and compromise (because, traditionally speaking British political parties did not need to). At the moment, however, this problematic approach is more damaging to British and Irish interests more broadly than it is to Northern Ireland. The lack of experience in negotiative politics is the chief reason why the Conservative party and Mrs May are in such a mess. The idea that ‘no deal was better than a bad deal’ to exit the EU was simply delusional.

In Ireland, the consequences of no deal, a bad deal, or even a least worst deal all place Irish businesses and exporters in a worse off position than they are now. Enterprise Ireland (the state agency for business promotion) has been running an advertising campaign for some time directing Irish business to a ‘Get ready for Brexit’ site, with free apps to assess the risks to your business and advice about what measures to take. An equal effort on the British side seems to be entirely lacking. Our civil servants report that administratively the British government is equally unprepared. The lack of clear political leadership only added to this difficulty. It is for this reason that in Ireland, there has been some frustration with the DUP for not engaging to any great degree with Irish governmental efforts to lobby for a Brexit outcome that accommodates the Irish border issue. Whilst the Irish government successfully made its case to the EU (the Irish border question being one of the three initial questions for negotiation), there was real dismay that the Northern Irish parties, and the DUP in particular, were not sending equally strong messages from Northern Ireland to the British government. This leads me to your second question..

It is in this overall vacuum that the current prospect of a DUP deal with the Conservative party might not be the worst outcome. In the long term, the fact that the Good Friday Agreement places the British and Irish governments as independent and neutral guarantors of the peace, places the British government in an invidious position: it is hard to see how they can be neutral with the parties of the North, when they are depending on one side to keep them in government. But nobody really expects the current British government to last for very long and the immediate consequences of Brexit are more pressing. In the short term, despite their support for Brexit, the DUP do not want a hard border with the Republic and they are likely to argue strongly for an indulgent budget for Northern Ireland as a price for their support. Both these point to a preference for a softer Brexit, which combined with the Scottish Conservatives preference means that the balance of power in Westminster now favours a softer Brexit.

This means that ironically, following their lack of interest in cooperating with Irish governmental efforts to turn British attention to the implications of Brexit for Ireland, the DUP will now be making this their central concern in negotiating support for the Conservative party. The political culture in Northern Ireland may be divided, but unlike the prevailing culture in Westminster, Northern Irish parties of all hues have nearly two decades of experience in complex political negotiations. In this respect, the DUP is entirely in its comfort zone. Moreover, the likelihood is that Sinn Fein will accede to this development – in the short term at least. Long time Northern Irish commentators suggest that Gerry Adam’s remarks regarding the current political situation today were not aggressive, but strategically neutral. Whilst he publicly encouraged Mrs Foster to pay more attention to the long-term future of the NI Assembly than to short term political gain in Westminster, he too will be happy to see more money flow into Northern Ireland from the British government as a result of the DUP’s deal. And in the medium term, this will place more attention on the need for a government in Stormont to allocate the budget.

Tim BaleProfessor, Chair in Politics, Queen Mary, University London, Author of the book: The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron

The DUP will be seen my most voters as a bunch of rather extreme people ‘holding the Conservatives to ransom’ and as ‘the tail wagging the dog’.

The DUP does not want a hard border between the South and the North, but the hard Brexit supposedly backed by the Tories, because it means leaving the customs union and the single market makes it difficult to imagine how that is possible.

The UK government is supposed to be an honest broker in NI but will now be obviously aligned with one side – especially awkward because talks are supposed to be ongoing to get the NI assembly back up and running.

The advantages are: The Conservatives get to stay in government while they figure out what on earth to do next. The DUP gets to exercise a disproportionate influence (they have ten seats out of 150) on UK governance and politics.

Christopher RaymondLecturer in Politics, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast

There are three immediate problems with a Conservative-DUP partnership:

1. Cooperating with the DUP undermines the Conservatives’ position as a neutral guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.  Under this agreement, the British government is not supposed to participate in the affairs of Northern Ireland in such a way as to favour one side (unionist or nationalist) over the other.  By cooperating with the DUP, the Conservatives might be seen as favouring the unionist side of the community over the nationalist side, which might undermine the power-sharing institutions here.

2. There may be a public backlash against the Conservatives for working with the DUP.  Because the DUP remain very socially conservative, many English voters may find problematic any sort of partnership with a party whose members tend to be anti-homosexual, anti-abortion, and anti-climate change.  This might hurt the Conservatives’ electoral prospects in the next election, whenever that may be.

3. The DUP’s voters may react negatively to working with the Conservatives: because the DUP is essentially a populist party, it tends to prefer larger government spending (without voters in Northern Ireland having to bear the brunt of the taxation to pay for this expenditure) that it can distribute to its constituents.  Any Tory cuts to Northern Ireland (or perhaps even if the DUP don’t secure much higher levels of government expenditure in Northern Ireland), its voters may react negatively to partnership with the Conservatives.  Additionally, many DUP candidates ran against the Conservatives in this and previous elections, because the Conservatives are viewed asEnglish and not sufficiently concerned with the interests of Northern Ireland and the larger United Kingdom; partnering with the Conservatives might undermine the credibility of the DUP in the minds of their voters, which in turn might strengthen the hand of even more extreme parties on the unionist side (e.g. the Traditional Unionist Voice, which is composed of many former DUP members who thought the DUP were not sufficiently conservative and committed to preserving the United Kingdom).

That being said, there are some advantages to each for working with one another:

1. For the Conservatives, working with the DUP enhances their credibility as a party committed to preserving the United Kingdom.  Despite the DUP’s socially conservative positions on issues of personal morality, working with the DUP to preserve the United Kingdom might enhance the credibility of the Conservatives in Scotland, where demonstrating such commitment was essential to winning seats in this most recent election.

2. Again, for the Conservatives, working with the DUP helps the Conservatives on the issue of Brexit.  For one, the DUP are committed to achieving separation from the EU, having campaigned along a unified party stance in favour of Brexit last spring.  Additionally, while the DUP are committed to leaving the EU, the DUP’s position in favour preserving an open border with the Republic of Ireland could help those within the Conservative Party who want to prevent a hard Brexit: although the DUP tend to prefer a hard Brexit as well, their position on the Irish border would make a hard Brexit impossible, which in turn would pave the way for a much more friendly relationship with the EU post-exit.

3. While working with the Conservatives might undermine the credibility of the DUP in some of their voters’ minds, such cooperation could ultimately help the DUP demonstrate its commitment to preserving the United Kingdom against disintegration (in particular, the re-unification of Ireland).  It is a gamble, but if the Conservative-DUP cooperation on Brexit, defence, and other issues regarding the preservation of the United Kingdom survives through the Brexit negotiation process without a successful Scottish independence referendum and/or Irish re-unification, then the DUP would demonstrate its commitment to these issues to its voters, which in turn might strengthen its position vis-à-vis other unionist parties in Northern Ireland.

Kenneth McDonaghLecturer in International Relations, School of Law and Government, Dublin City University

The key problem with the Tory-DUP partnership is the implications for the Good Friday Agreement and, by extension, for Brexit. The power sharing institutions in Northern Ireland, set up as part of the peace deal, are currently suspended as after the last elections the two largest parties – the DUP and Sinn Féinn couldn’t agree a programme for government. If no deal is made Northern Ireland will revert to direct rule from Westminster. The DUP would be quite happy with this as they were under significant pressure related to a scandal on renewable energy, Sinn Fein would have no leverage over them if the Belfast Assembly remains closed. However direct rule would likely increase tensions in Northern Ireland particularly among nationalists (those who favour a united Ireland). This would get even worse in the context of a hard brexit which would see the return of border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Although the DUP formally opposes a ‘hard border’ they would not in practice accept any Brexit deal that compromised Northern Ireland’s status in the United Kingdom for example any customs or immigration checks for those travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

For the DUP the advantage is that they escape the pressure to compromise with SF to get the Northern Ireland assemby institutions back up and running, for the Tories the only advantage is getting back into power. The price of DUP support is that Brexit negotations have now become even more difficult on an issue, the status of Northern Ireland, the EU has already flagged as a key part of any deal.

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