Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Any general election now could prove toxic

Mrs May should remember the 2017 election disaster and, if one takes place soon, the DUP and Sinn Fein would have much the same results
Mrs May should remember the 2017 election disaster and, if one takes place soon, the DUP and Sinn Fein would have much the same results

Editor's Viewpoint

Jonathan Powell, the co-architect of the Good Friday Agreement, was the Government's chief negotiator here from 1997-2007, a period bookended by the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements. He has earned the right to have his occasional pronouncements on Northern Ireland taken seriously.

He believes Theresa May has misjudged the DUP over Brexit, and gives as one example her decision to fly to Brussels in December 2017 when she thought she could strike a deal with the EU. Her political chain was quickly yanked by Arlene Foster and she was forced to return to London to renegotiate with the party.

Writing at the weekend, Powell claims Mrs May similarly misjudged the party when she thought it would back her withdrawal agreement at the third vote.

However, she was spurned again by the DUP because of its immoveable objection to the backstop, which Powell regards as "fair".

Surely he is right when he claims that it is wise to take the DUP at its word. When it says it will oppose something it generally does, though it will be interesting to see what the party will do this week.

Powell is also right when he claims that the DUP will not welcome an early general election, having just flip-flopped on its commitment to leaving the EU. However, an election looks increasingly likely if the Commons rejects Mrs May's withdrawal agreement for a fourth time.

Powell imagines the DUP casting around for a new Conservative leader, Dominic Raab perhaps, while cautioning the Prime Minister to finally learn not to be too reliant on its support.

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Nigel Dodds has said the UK would be better off staying in the EU rather than risk the Union, while Sammy Wilson believes a no-deal would be "perfectly acceptable" if the right agreement can't be found.

UUP leader Robin Swann claims they both can't be right, and suggests that the 'Dodds faction' is coming to the UUP conclusion that a no-deal exit would be catastrophic for our business and agri sectors.

He rightly cautions the DUP to start listening to the people here.

Mrs May should remember the 2017 election disaster and, if one takes place soon, the DUP and Sinn Fein would have much the same results. But this could well be at the cost of a toxic campaign, with the potential of widening our already chasm-like differences and setting back any progress at Stormont indefinitely.

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