Belfast Telegraph

Alex Kane: Boris Johnson's Brexit setback means the DUP were lucky, they must now tread very carefully

DUP MPs Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, and Sammy Wilson listen as Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a statement in the House of Commons
DUP MPs Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, and Sammy Wilson listen as Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a statement in the House of Commons
Alex Kane

By Alex Kane

The loudest sound you could hear in the House of Commons just before 3pm was the sigh of relief from the DUP.

Their 10 votes in support of Sir Oliver Letwin's amendment - meaning that the House withheld formal approval of Johnson's deal until all of the explicit implementing legislation had also been passed - inflicted yet another defeat on Johnson.

More importantly, it also provided the DUP with much-needed breathing space and wriggle room, almost certainly stretching into next year.

The fact that the DUP's vote made such a crucial difference to Johnson is one that will not be lost on his key advisers.

But it also presents him with another problem: how can he get a resolution to the Ireland/Northern Ireland problem that keeps both the DUP and the EU happy?

And if that isn't possible then what can he offer which can win over a few MPs from Labour or elsewhere to make up his numbers? I'm not sure there is an easy answer to either of those questions.

One thing is certain: the DUP was let down by May, betrayed by Johnson and abandoned by their ERG allies.

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But, as I say, the DUP has space right now. How will it use it? Shortly after the vote Christopher Stalford, their MLA for south Belfast, tweeted: "The preservation of British Union is more important to me than the dismantling of the European one. This is our country too."

That may just be his personal opinion, but it is a view I have heard from a number of DUP sources in the last few days. It's also the view of Steve Aiken, almost certainly the UUP's next leader. Maybe we'll see the DUP backing away from any deal which contains a threat to the Union.

It's likely, too, that the DUP will spend the next few weeks talking to the other unionist parties to see if they can reach some sort of consensus on strategy.

I would also advise them to have detailed- and without UK government representatives present- conversations with both the Irish government and EU negotiators to see if it is possible to agree on a bespoke arrangement which they could, if it is reached, collectively present to the UK government.

One thing is certain: the DUP was let down by May, betrayed by Johnson and abandoned by their ERG allies.

They would be very foolish to place too much faith in any Conservative promises over the next few months. And they would be similarly foolish to enter into some sort of barter process with Johnson. He can't be trusted: and they shouldn't trust him.

The DUP got lucky today.

Victory for Johnson would have been catastrophic for them and, by extension, for NI unionism generally. The party now needs to tread very, very carefully.

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