Suzanne Breen: Inevitable split on way for Wells and DUP
Jim Wells and the DUP are on a collision course and it's far too late in the day for anyone to negotiate a safe landing.
The South Down representative has been a party member for 43 years and an MLA for almost a quarter of a century. He is the DUP’s longest-serving Stormont politician. But the big question is, for how much longer?
Arlene Foster yesterday put clear blue water between herself and Mr Wells after he compared the number of people killed in Nazi concentration camps to abortions in Britain since 1967. Amnesty International, Alliance and Sinn Fein were critical of the politician but it was Mrs Foster’s rebuke which was the most noteworthy.
She said the Nazi comparison was wrong and people needed to be careful with their language.
Former DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt went further. “As a pro-life supporter I think it is absolutely disgraceful that Jim Wells should in any way include the Holocaust as a comparison in any debate on abortion or otherwise . Disgraceful Jim,” he tweeted.
Yet it is wrong to frame Mr Wells as being the only person in the DUP family using such language in this debate. Sammy Wilson’s comments on Tuesday about foetuses being “discarded and put in a bin” raised eyebrows among fellow parliamentarians.
He was speaking immediately after Tory MP Heidi Allen had told the House of Commons about her own experience of abortion.
“I was ill when I made the incredibly hard decision to have a termination. I was having seizures every day. I was not even able to control my own body, let alone care for a new life,” she said.
Yet while the East Antrim MP’s future in the DUP is secure, it is surely only a matter of time until Mr Wells is shown the door.
His relationship with his party is one of irretrievable breakdown. It began with his explosive interview in the Belfast Telegraph in April when he accused the DUP leadership of hanging him out to dry over his conservative views.
He had the whip withdrawn. The DUP has refused to comment any further about what it says is an internal matter but further disciplinary proceedings are surely inevitable.
Withdrawing the whip has actually been a positive experience for Mr Wells. It means he has been able to give his uncensored views on any subject to anyone who asks.
“I did 17 interviews last week with Channel Four, UTV, the BBC and other media,” he said.
He explained that he is enjoying the liberty being freed from the party whip has given him. “I feel like a prisoner who has escaped from the Maze and is running down the motorway,” he said. While he can’t now go to party group meetings, he is still widely seen in the public’s eyes as a DUP MLA, much to the exasperation of senior party figures.
Mr Wells may soon receive his marching orders, although he seems remarkably nonplussed about that prospect.