Economics and politics - comment and analysis
22. June 2017 I Will Denayer I Economic Policy, Europe, General, General Politics

Reflections on a failed political system. Part 2: Tories, the DUP and the Brexit

 

On Monday the 19th of June, Britain started its negotiations with the EU. This first phase of the talks will tackle three main areas: safeguarding the rights of citizens; financial settlement of the UK’s obligations and the new external borders of the EU.

Ian Dunt writes:

“We are now about to go into the most challenging negotiations since the Second World War with no government, no overall aim, no plan to achieve it, no functioning department to deliver it, no confidence at home or abroad with which to pass it, no trade expert capacity to negotiate it, and no time to manage it” (see here).

Dunt is not exaggerating. It turns out that Lord Bridges, the boss of the Department of Exiting, just exited. This is not a joke. He resigned in apparent disgust (see here).

The Tories have no majority and are at the moment negotiating a coalition with the zealots of the DUP. This does not seem to work out well either. In the meantime, Labour keeps surging in the polls. According to the latest YouGov poll, Labour would win if the election would take place today. For two years, Corbyn has been portrayed as incompetent and evil. Compared to today’s Tory circus, Corbyn and Labour look like a haven of intelligence, insight and professional political management.

It is not clear what the Tories need to do now. Certainly, the more they self-destruct the better. May crashed and is now a liability, but who will take her place and how? The Tories cannot just appoint another PM, but a new election could very well bring them defeat! Philip Hammond, who opposes May’s hard Brexit adventures, or David Davis seem to be candidates. Or Boris Johnson. Johnson’s trump card is that he is unacceptable to everyone because he is Boris Johnson. But that might just be the only thing left the Tories can agree upon (see here for what this proud product of international private schools and so-called top universities managed to incoherently mumble – it is being called the worst interview of any politician ever). The Tory tragedy is turning into a pink panther movie, too crazy for words.

The irony of the Tories having to negotiate with the DUP is more than just sweet.

For the last two years, Corbyn has been called a terrorist lover, a friend of the jihad, an anti-Semite, a sympathiser of the IRA and much, much more. It is more than just ironic that today, May, who called this snap election in order to increase her parliamentary majority, is negotiating with the Democratic Unionist Party. The relationship of the DUP with terrorist activities is a matter of undisputable historical record.

Negotiating a modern government with ‘the political wing of the Old Testament’ (Frankie Boyle)

The DUP is a right wing, unionist Northern Irish party, founded by Ian Paisley in 1971. The DUP is socially conservative, anti-abortion, opposes same-sex marriage, questions the existence of climate change and wants to place creationism on the curriculum in secondary education. It has, for the moment, the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly (28) – feeling the breath of Sinn Fein in the neck (the difference is 3 seats). It has 10 seats at Westminster. It defends Britishness and Ulster protestant culture against Irish nationalism and it backs the Brexit. In recent years, the DUP has been a proponent of reinstating the death penalty, scrapping benefits for under 25s and charging for hospital visits (see here). The party has historic links with the far right in Northern Ireland and it has been endorsed by paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), which are proscribed terrorist organisations.

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Figure 1: Electoral results in NI 1997 – 2017. Two things are notable: Sinn Fein ate away the support of the UUP and the SDLP (the Labour Party) and it is close to becoming the biggest party in the country. 

When the DUP formed, Northern Ireland was in the midst of the Troubles, which began in 1969 and would last for the next thirty years. The conflict began amid a campaign against the Catholic Irish minority by the Protestant/unionist government and police force. This protest campaign was opposed for many years, often with violence. Paisley led the unionist opposition to the civil rights movement. The DUP were more hard-line than the UUP, the other Ulster unionist party (see here).

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Figure 2: Mural of the UDA and the DUP in the native land (Source: Google Images). 

Over the years, on several occasions the DUP opposed and sabotaged several agreements which could have halted the violence in Northern Ireland.

This goes way back, to 1973 when the DUP opposed the Sunningdale Agreement. The Agreement was an attempt to resolve the conflict by setting up a government for Northern Ireland in which unionists and Irish nationalists would share power. This has always been the only solution to end the violence in the North. But the unionists did not agree and the anti-Agreement unionists called a general strike. The strike coordinating committee included Paisley and leaders of loyalist paramilitary groups. On the third day of the strike, loyalists detonated four car bombs in Dublin and Monaghan, killing 33 civilians (see here). The unionists won, the agreement was dead. The sectarian barbarianism and the killing could continue.

In 1981, the DUP opposed the then-ongoing talks between Thatcher and Irish Prime Minister Haughey. Paisley and other DUP members attempted to create a Protestant loyalist volunteer militia—called the Third Force.

In 1985 the DUP sunk the Anglo-Irish Agreement (once again it proposed a power-sharing government) by mounting a major protest campaign, dubbed “Ulster Says No“. And so the violence continued.

There is no doubt about the relationship between the DUP and terrorist groups. On 10 November 1986, Paisley, Robinson (who led the party before Arlene Foster today – the Robinsons are also called the “Swish Family Robinson” after Peter Robinson and his wife Iris, claimed £571.939 in expenses with a further £150.000 being paid to family members) announced the formation of the Ulster Resistance Movement (URM). This was a loyalist paramilitary group whose purpose was to “take direct action as and when required” to bring down any Agreement the DUP did not like and defeat republicanism. The following year, the URM helped smuggle a large shipment of weapons into Northern Ireland, which were shared out between the URM, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). In 1989, URM members attempted to trade Shorts‘ missile blueprints for weapons from the apartheid South African regime (see here).

In early January 1994, the Ulster Defence Association released a document calling for the repartition of Ireland. The goal was to make Northern Ireland wholly Protestant. The plan was to be implemented should the British Army withdraw from Northern Ireland, with the vastly Irish Catholic and nationalist areas to be handed over to the Republic, and those in the rump state would be either “expelled, nullified, or interned”. Incredibly, Wilson, a future Stormont minister and MP, spoke positively of the document, calling it a “valuable return to reality” and lauded the UDA for “contemplating what needs to be done to maintain our separate Ulster identity” (see here).

The DUP opposed the Agreement in the Good Friday Agreement referendum of 1998. The Agreement was approved by 71.1% of the NI electorate.

In January 2017, the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed after Martin McGuinness resigned in protest at the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, which centred on a green energy scheme that Foster set up in her capacity as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. The scheme lacked cost controls and could cost the public purse up to £490 million.

When May lost her majority, the DUP said that “The alternative is intolerable. For as long as Corbyn leads Labour, we will ensure there’s a Tory PM” (see here).

The party has vetoed the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland since 2015, making Northern Ireland the only region of the UK where same-sex marriage is not legalised. The party maintains that it is “pro-life” and members have campaigned strongly against any extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland, unanimously opposing a bill by Labour MP Diane Johnson to protect women in England and Wales from criminal prosecution if they ended a pregnancy using pills bought online. DUP politicians have attempted to have creationism promoted in Northern Ireland. Some prominent DUP elected representatives have called for creationism to be taught in schools and for museums to include creationism in their exhibits. The DUP has called for a debate in the House of Commons over bringing back the death penalty.

The DUP was the only party in the Northern Ireland Executive to back “Leave” during the Brexit campaign. How this would work is unknown, as the DUP opposes a hard Irish border and wishes to remain in the Common Travel Area.

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Figure 3: The Daily Mirror calling it as it is (Source: Daily Mirror). 

Breaching the Good Friday Agreement

John Major urged May last week to pull out of a deal, warning it risks a return of violence in Northern Ireland (see here). He suggests that May pursues a minority government without “the baggage” of an agreement with the DUP. They may be more trouble lurking. Some senior Labour figures involved in the peace process, such as former Northern Ireland Secretaries Lord Peter Hain and Shaun Woodward, have expressed concern that May is abandoning the “rigorous impartiality” which both the British and Irish governments signed up to in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

It begins to look like it that Hain and Woodward are right. The point is that it is all good and well if the DUP and Sinn Fein and others sit in a government in Northern Ireland, but the situation changes when one of these parties becomes part of the government of Great Britain (or the Republic of Ireland). Then this government cannot longer cast itself as independent arbitrator in negotiations between the local parties. The case, which could be brought to the Supreme Court because of its constitutional significance, follows cross-party warnings that the deal could jeopardise Northern Ireland’s peace process.

But May needs the DUP’s 10 elected MPs to back her government on confidence votes and budget or supply votes. Otherwise May can be brought down any time by a motion of no confidence. May stated that

“On reaching such an agreement we will make sure that the details of that are made public so that people can see exactly what that is based on.”

This reassures no one and Gerry Adams from Sinn Fein already reacted:

“We told her very directly that she was in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, and we itemised those matters in which she was in default in relation to that agreement.”

The Tories are worse than the DUP

Apart from that, there is no reason to expect smooth negotiations or a long-lasting relationship between the Tories and the DUP. Because ideology, a common hatred of everything social democratic and love for god and the fatherland across the pond and insights such as that the dinosaurs became extinct because Noah did not take them with him are all fantastic, but what counts at the end of the day are bread and butter policies. Here the cracks inevitably show, because why would a party such as the DUP, of which many of its 292.000 voters are working class, which opposes the Conservative welfare benefit cuts and pledged to defend the triple lock on pensions and the winter fuel allowance agree with Tory sadist austerity that has had such magnificent results in the ‘mainland’? It is evident what the DUP wants: more inward investment in Northern Ireland and more local infrastructure spending. Exactly what the Tories want to hear.

The Tories and the DUP do not even agree on the Brexit. As long the Brexit was nothing but fantasy about my sovereignty and the inherent Britishness of the orange Irishman, as long as it was about yelling, insulting and lying, the DUP were among the most enthusiastic Brexiteers. But when it comes to its practical implementation, DUP leader Arlene Foster signed a joint letter with the late Martin McGuinness (Sinn Fein) which put her very much on the soft end of the Brexit spectrum. Those who warn against the danger that the Tories will govern with the DUP do not understand that Theresa May is a greater and more dangerous fanatic than Arlene Foster. Foster knows that a Brexit is as good as impossible in Ireland. Everybody knows this, except deaf, blind and plan-less May. No one wants a hard border back between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The DUP want ease of trade with EU member states and access to both unskilled and highly skilled European labour. Another issue the Tories love hearing about.

It is of course possible that the DUP will be flexible. Their history amply shows this inclination. The DUP might very well be willing to accept the local impact of Brexit. The question will be how much the Tories are going to be willing to pay for it. More funding to blunt the impact might be greatly appreciated. How much will May cough up in order to cling to power for another couple of weeks or months?

If the DUP shopping list contains items like protecting army veterans and former police officers from prosecution for troubles offences the likely price is that bombs will go off in Belfast.

Conclusion

After dealing with May’s humiliating victory, her political necrosis which advances by the day and the realistic prospect of a British government which includes Britain’s finest, the DUP, let’s consider the regression. In 2010, the Tories defeated Gordon Brown, mainly on the basis of the myth that Labour adds more to budget deficit than Conservatives. George Osborne promised to bring the deficit to zero. This constituted the ideological justification for biting austerity. Austerity achieved nothing positive whatsoever (see part 1). In 2015, Miliband failed to take advantage of this conservative chaos because, in essence, plagiarising the Tory manifesto, adding an ‘accent’ here and there and printing mugs with ‘Stop Immigration’ did not fly. Cameron then had the brilliant idea to crush the euro-skeptics within his own party. May became PM after he resigned in shame. She never had anything substantial to say about anything and lied about most of everything. May became the champion of the hard Brexit she had campaigned against before the referendum. May then called a snap election, hoping to substantially increase her parliamentary majority. The result was humiliating defeat. The Tories now need to form a coalition government. Their potential coalition partner is the Democratic Unionist Party.

None of this circus has brought anything to the country. As someone said on Twitter when May warned of a coalition of chaos propped up by extremist terrorist sympathisers (Corbyn, of course) she did not add that she would be leading it. This has now become almost factually true. May will not last. “Mrs May has no credibility at home, and no bargaining power abroad – she has lost all credibility,” said Paddy Ashdown on the BBC. “The broken Tories are now dependent on an anti-gay, anti-women’s rights party linked to Northern Irish extremists,” wrote Owen Jones. The Conservative Party is turning against May (see here and here). It is turning against her hard Brexit.