Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
1 December 2017

What are the risks for the DUP if it pulls the plug on Theresa May?

The Northern Irish party’s overriding objective is the maintenance of the Union.

By Stephen Bush

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. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
Railways must adapt to how we live now
“I learn something new on every trip"
How data can help revive our high streets in the age of online shopping