The row over Donald Trump rumbles on, but the biggest story as far as both the government’s survival and the Brexit talks go is that the DUP aren’t going to play ball when it comes to the government’s proposed compromise on the border.
The planned fudge, revealed in yesterday’s Times, would involve regulatory convergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic. But that doesn’t work for the DUP because, as I explain in greater detail here, their overriding project is a strengthening and deepening of the ties between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Regulatory convergence with Northern Ireland and the EU27 contains, of course, the potential for further regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales, so it’s nothing doing.
It’s true that the DUP will never support a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn – though one led by Corbynites is a more complicated question – but their overriding objective is the maintenance of the Union, not the frustration of one politician. (It’s also worth remembering that the risk for the DUP if they pull the plug is a Labour government that puts further divides between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, whereas the certainty if they don’t is a Conservative government that puts further divides between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom and has made them look weak.)
At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, the only option that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea is for the whole of the UK to stay within the regulatory orbit of the EU. That’s also the only way to secure a trade deal with anything like the same level of market access that the EU and UK enjoy now. The only real question is whether a Conservative prime minister can survive that – or if a drastic Brexit is the price the United Kingdom pays for the governing party’s preoccupations.