Belfast Telegraph

Alex Kane: When push comes to shove, the DUP will agree to sell painful deal

The DUP’s Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds may have to accept a deal they are not happy with
The DUP’s Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds may have to accept a deal they are not happy with

Alex Kane

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph on August 19, I suggested that Boris Johnson "could yet be persuaded of the merits of a backstop of some sort (applying only to NI)".

DUP representatives told me I was talking nonsense, yet it now looks as if the party will be presented with a take-it-or-leave-it option in the next few days.

Noises from both the Johnson and Varadkar camps suggest that Thursday's meeting between them went very well and even EU sources sound more upbeat than they have for months.

The chances of a 'breakthrough deal' shifted from very unlikely to a position somewhere between maybe and possibly.

Everything could change overnight, of course, but as it stands key players in London and Dublin are happy: and it's that happiness which spooks the DUP.

But what happens if a deal is agreed (although that still remains a BIG if) and the DUP don't like it?

Even worse from their perspective, what happens if Johnson has the numbers to get a deal through the Commons without them: which is very likely if the EU and Irish government are behind it.

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Yes, it would be a hugely embarrassing blow for Arlene Foster and could lead to her resignation (which some DUP elements would like anyway), but the DUP has no cards to play in those circumstances.

In essence it would have been cut adrift by both Parliament and the Conservative Party, bringing back memories of what happened with the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

The trouble is that the DUP could not just turn its back on a bad deal and hope that it would go away; and nor would it be able to kill off the deal once it got through the House of Commons. Which leaves it with only one, albeit very uncomfortable option: find a way of 'selling' the deal and retaining their top-dog position within unionism. So, is that possible?

I certainly wouldn't dismiss the chances: after all, the DUP did manage to shift from 'utter and comprehensive rejection' of the Good Friday Agreement and sitting in government with Sinn Fein, to cutting its own 'ourselves together' deal with the party. And they managed to keep unionism behind them, as well as facing down a challenge from Jim Allister when he resigned and formed TUV.

Whatever else you may think of the DUP it is extraordinarily agile when it comes to extricating itself from deep holes -often those that it has dug for itself.

Northern Ireland needs stability now. Unionism wants to see the constant demands for a border poll lessen; as, I suspect, would the Irish government. The DUP wants to calm unionist fears about being eased out of the United Kingdom.

It can argue that there has always been a 'place apart' element to Northern Ireland's identity and position within the Union and will reassure unionists that they will still be represented in Westminster.

And the party also knows that a deal which satisfies the small-u unionists and small-n nationalists who like the ties with the EU, as well as satisfies the business/farming/manufacturing/trading et al interests in favour of close ties with the EU is, ironically, the best way of sustaining a pro-Union majority.

Also, it is possible that many unionists - who would, once again, have felt their interests hadn't been prioritised by Westminster - might actually warm to a foot-in-both-camps solution.

The days of mass protests have gone, too and won't be coming back; so there'll be no traction for any party wanting to bring people onto the streets.

For the DUP - as for unionism generally - the Union trumps everything. If selling a 'difficult' deal is the only way of ensuring NI remains in the UK, then the DUP will sell it.

And they'll probably get away with it, because I don't see any sign of the UUP, TUV or unionist/loyalist fringes having a viable and available alternative.

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