The unsuccessful gamble of the snap election called by U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May last week has turned the world’s spotlight on Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (D.U.P).
May’s Conservative Party shored up 318 seats last Thursday, eight short of an absolute majority needed to form a government. Until recently, the D.U.P. has been a minor player in British politics. Now, its ten Parliamentary members have been thrust into the role of potential kingmaker, as Theresa May has turned to the group in order to bolster her chances at continued leadership. Talks opened on Friday and were ongoing throughout the weekend, with a spokesperson for Theresa May confirming on Sunday that “the Democratic Unionist Party has agreed to the principles of an outline agreement to support the Conservative government.”
The deal is believed to be a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, in which the D.U.P., led by Arlene Foster, will be expected to support May’s government in motions of confidence, as well as in appropriation or budget votes.
With D.U.P.’s ten Parliamentary seats crucial to May’s political survival, it’s still unknown what concessions are to be expected by the Conservatives to secure the group’s backing.
So what does Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party stand for?
Formed by controversial loyalist politician Ian Paisley in 1971, D.U.P. is largely an arch-conservative party. At its core, it favors Ulster unionism, a political ideology opposing a united Ireland, and instead, keeping North Ireland within the United Kingdom.
According to the official party platform, D.U.P. supports continued increases in the national living wage – the obligatory minimum wage for U.K. workers. It also favors the increases to the personal tax allowance, ongoing support for the United Kingdom’s independent nuclear deterrent, and continued annual increases in the state pension.
The D.U.P. has been known to take stances on certain social issues that are considered controversial. D.U.P. is staunchly anti-abortion, opposes same-sex marriage, and stands at odds with LGBT rights – decades ago, it launched an unsuccessful political campaign touting “Save Ulster from Sodomy.” More recently, senior ministers within the party have touted climate change skepticism, as well ‘young earth’ beliefs – with Assembly members endorsing events promoting teaching creationism in U.K. schools.
However, it is D.U.P.’s skeptical stance towards EU integration, an ideological point shared with May’s Conservatives, which has helped launch the party into stunning prominence this past week. To seal an agreement, it is believed D.U.P. will demand a soft Brexit deal, in which the U.K. would no longer be a member of the EU. Despite leaving the EU, the U.K. would still have a close relationship with the European Union, including maintaining border agreements and unimpeded access to the European single market – as near as possible to existing arrangements. If this turns out to be true, it will clash with May’s stated promise in January of “a truly global Britain,” and a hard Brexit when negotiations begin on June 19.
While the details of the agreement are still being hammered out, significant criticism has begun to fall on both Theresa May and the potential ‘confidence and supply’ pact.
Encouraged by last Thursday’s election results, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has already predicted fresh elections for later this year. Former treasurer George Osborne declared May “a dead woman walking.” May has begun to reshuffle her cabinet in the wake of the election defeat. And by Sunday morning, online petitions had raised over 600,000 signatures calling on the Prime Minister to resign rather than make a confidence deal with the Democratic Unionist Party.
With only 8 days until formal Brexit negotiations begin, and a lot of unknowns still present, the chaos of this situation is determined to settle sooner than later.