Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: DUP could find itself powerless if Prime Minister and Labour leader strike a deal

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP will be praying hard that Jeremy Corbyn does what it has spent most of its political existence doing - saying no.

If the Labour leader thrashes out a deal with the Prime Minister, the DUP will look like it has been totally sidelined and shafted at Westminster.

The good news for Arlene Foster's party is that while Theresa May and Mr Corbyn are still playing footsie after a constructive first date yesterday, the chances of the relationship going anywhere remain slim.

Westminster sources insist that their meeting is not just a box-ticking exercise for either side. A Labour insider told the Belfast Telegraph he was "pleasantly surprised" at the Prime Minister for reaching out, and his party had a duty to "go into this trying to make it work".

Left to their own devices, Mr Corbyn and Mrs May probably could find a way of moving forward on Brexit. However, it is the strength of feeling in their own parliamentary parties which will prevent compromise.

Ideally, the DUP would like to see Mrs May removed as Tory leader as soon as possible, and undoubtedly most of her MPs want the same. Their problem is that having survived the last internal vote of no confidence, there is no mechanism in the Conservative Party to get rid of her.

The past seven days have not been good for the DUP. First came the betrayal by many of their Tory Brexiteer friends who voted for the withdrawal agreement despite all their own previous claims that it represented a major threat to the Union.

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The DUP will not have been surprised by the actions of Boris Johnson. Loyalty has never been his strong point. But the U-turn by Jacob Rees-Mogg, whom the party's leadership held in the highest regard, will have hurt.

The DUP has not said so publicly, which is wise. Sounding like a scorned lover is never a good idea. Its 10 MPs have retained their cool in public.

They are now gambling on Mrs May's dalliance with Mr Corbyn going nowhere and a Brexit extension being granted by Brussels which involves EU elections in May.

While those elections will be a nightmare for the Tories with Nigel Farage's new Brexit party breathing down their necks, going to the polls holds no threat for the DUP.

Business and farming leaders have long been unhappy with the DUP's Brexit stance, but there is no evidence that their position is shared to any significant degree by grassroots unionists.

On the campaign trail for the council elections, DUP canvassers report the dominant sentiment being 'Get out of the EU as quick as you can and shut the door behind you'.

Of course, that is not going to happen. The DUP can live with a soft Brexit which makes the backstop redundant or no Brexit at all.

In either case, its narrative will be that it tried its best and remained true to its Leave principles.

The danger for the party exists as long as the backstop remains in play. The DUP has rightly or wrongly made that a major issue for unionists. Kicking the Brexit can further down the road is probably the best it can currently hope for.

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