Belfast Telegraph

Jon Tonge: Brexit game still on for DUP after it helps spook Boris Johnson's Halloween plan

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Jon Tonge

By Jon Tonge

Prime Minister 1 v DUP 2. A midweek success for the DUP, building on Saturday's triumph, in thwarting a Boris Brexit they loathe so much.

And this when all seemed lost after the PM changed the rules of the match only last week.

Since then revenge has been served twice upon a PM whose duplicity shocked even a party which does wariness and scepticism as a way of life.

With the Withdrawal Bill's second reading passed, there remain huge dangers for the DUP.

And many beyond the party, particularly those in business, may groan yet again at the continuing uncertainty.

But there are signs that Northern Ireland businesses are less enamoured with this deal than with Theresa May's.

And businesses on the other side of the Irish Sea are unhappy with the costs involved in transcending an internal UK customs border that Boris Johnson promised would never happen.

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The Government paid the price for attempting a preposterously constrained timetable to railroad a deal with significant differences from the one negotiated by the previous PM, especially in respect of Northern Ireland.

A Bill paused is a fine result for the DUP.

Even if the Government tried to revive its passage, there is now hope for Arlene Foster's party that wrecking amendments from the Opposition parties can be successfully tabled.

They could scupper the Bill in its entirety as the Government gives up and calls an election instead.

The most plausible wrecking amendment would place the UK in a customs union with the EU.

No UK independent trade deals but Northern Ireland in an identical position to the rest of the Kingdom, no customs barriers and flexibility on alignment with the single market - although with Stormont in even greater disarray after Monday's antics, the idea of a workable local consent mechanism appears even more far-fetched.

It's an odd position for a pro-Brexit party to wish for - and a customs union has never been advocated by the DUP - but needs must.

UK-exit good, Br-exit bad is the key principle for the party.

Had last night's votes both gone the Government's way, the DUP leadership would have been facing humiliation at the party conference this Saturday, routed by Government players who were once on the same team. Instead, there is all to play for.

This Saturday will now have a different feel.

The DUP has shown its parliamentary bite.

With Boris's Halloween plan spooked, soon we will be opening our Advent calendars - and peering at an election when we peel back one of the days.

Happy Christmas…

  • Jon Tonge is Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool and co-author of books on the DUP and UUP (Oxford University Press)

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