The party misplayed its hand at every opportunityby Siobhán Fenton / December 14, 2019 / Leave a comment
The DUP’s fall from political grace has been as brutal as it has been inevitable. In the wee hours after the 2017 general election, roars of celebration from party leader Arlene Foster and her 10 MPs echoed around the Belfast electoral count centre, as they found out that they would hold the balance of power at Westminster. Two years later, in the same room, Foster and her colleagues could only look on despondent and forlorn as the results trickled in.
The strong majority for Boris Johnson means the Conservatives no longer need the backing of the DUP to govern. Despite the prime minister’s florid talk of wanting to preserve and prioritise Northern Ireland’s union with the rest of the UK, most people in Northern Ireland strongly doubt his word. The DUP should now expect to find itself cast aside by the Tories as suddenly as it was embraced in 2017.
To a certain extent, the party only has itself to blame. By backing Brexit in 2016, without any vision for how the Irish border should look, it committed a catastrophic strategic error that has haunted it ever since. Upon entering the confidence and supply agreement with the Conservatives, the party saw an opportunity to redeem itself and wrangle out of its Brexit quandary as it received countless pledges from both Theresa May and Johnson that Northern Ireland was leaving the EU on the same terms as the rest of the UK. However, it has been left high and dry by Johnson, whose Brexit deal creates a de facto border down the Irish Sea.
Worse still for the DUP, the party also had a poor performance at home. It has lost two seats—North Belfast and South Belfast—while also failing to pick up North Down (a seat previously held by an independent unionist MP, which had been there for the taking following her retirement).
Especially worrying for the party is the North Belfast seat, which had been held by deputy leader Nigel Dodds and has now swung to Sinn Féin. The ousting of such a senior figure is a major blow. That the seat has gone to arch-rivals Sinn Féin will rub salt in the wound.
The party’s dalliance with the Conservatives is now viewed with derision…