Distributed  to Congress by Irish National Caucus

    DUP leader Arlene Foster says that her party will not back UK prime minster Theresa May’s Brexit deal as it would “damage the union.”
    Reporters who should know better have wasted time on a possible U-turn by the party

    DUP leader Arlene Foster says that her party will not back UK prime minster Theresa May’s Brexit deal as it would “damage the union.”
    It is strange that the Democratic Unionist Party’s announcement on Wednesday night that it would vote against the Brexit withdrawal agreement if there was a third “meaningful” vote was such a big news story. It should have come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the politics of Northern Ireland even in a cursory manner in recent decades.

    It is shocking how much newspaper space and broadcast air time has been given in recent months to suggestions that the DUP would eventually switch and say Yes to the withdrawal agreement.

    Much of the false commentary on the point was flamed by Downing Street spin and lapped up by May supporters, such as they are, in the conservative press in London. However, some of the false analysis came from the mouth or pens of reporters and commentators in Dublin and in Belfast who one might have expected to be better informed.

    There is nothing in the recent, mid-term or long-term history of the DUP which suggests it was ever for turning on this. There was no political or electoral imperative for it to sign up for the deal, and much electoral risk had it even attempted to do so.

    The DUP currently lacks leadership with enough economic or constitutional literacy to see the need for such a change in policy, or with the political sophistication or skill to give effect to such.

    It is worth remembering that in the Brexit referendum itself, the party’s base voted overwhelmingly in favor of leaving. It did so not out of economic self-interest, but out of Eurosceptic and tribal instinct.
    The DUP headquarters machine was closely embedded to the UK-wide campaign—as evident by the extent to which Unionist Party accounts were used to channel donations and funding for pro-Brexit literature deployed in places like London.

    Every word uttered by DUP spokespersons since the referendum has doubled down on their stance. They were always dismissive of concerns raised about how leaving the custom union or the single market would risk the emergence of a hard border on the island
    When experts and officials in London, Belfast, Dublin and Brussels, and ultimately Theresa May herself, warned them that something akin to a backstop-type solution would have to be put in place, the DUP simply went into denial.

    After it voted against the withdrawal agreement on the first occasion, May then dissembled by allowing the “Brady amendment”’ to pass with its implication – aimed at the DUP and others – that changes to the backstop could be negotiated with the EU.

    They could not, and May’s claim that some changes in interpretation had been achieved were exposed when attorney general Geoffrey Cox confirmed in parliament that his legal interpretation had not altered.

    Notwithstanding all this, a surprising array of usually well-informed voices parsed and analysed every DUP utterance, claiming that we were on the verge of a shift in its position.

    The DUP then voted against the withdrawal agreement for a second time.

    Then began the most curious phase of all – the narrative about how the DUP might be for turning.

    Over the St Patrick’s Day weekend there was intense speculation in media on both islands about talks which Downing Street was holding with the DUP. Some got particularly excited about the involvement of chancellor Philip Hammond in these talks, which it was said implied some buy-off would be made available to and accepted by the DUP in return for a switch in its position.
    Diverted attention
    Of course, it served May’s purpose and that of the DUP to engage with each other as part of the process of running down the clock. Speculation about what they might be agreeing diverted attention and withheld momentum from those seeking to explore middle ground and cross-party proposals in Westminster itself.

    The DUP has only ever once shifted from saying No to saying Yes. That happened in 2007 when the party’s founder, Ian Paisley, agreed to go into government with Sinn Féin. It happened at a moment when the party was politically and psychologically in a much more comfortable position, and at a time when it was much better led.

    The manner of the collapse of the Stormont administration in December 2016 and the failures to get it back up since illustrates how the DUP has thrived on intransigence of late.

    There is no electoral cost for the DUP in maintaining its intransigent stance given the divided nature of Northern Irish politics, structured as it is for Westminster elections within the binary first-past-the-post voting system.

    Having marched its grassroots and its base up the hill in opposition to any kind of backstop, the DUP leadership was never going to be able to march them back down again, even if it were ever minded to do so.

    In the closed political world which the DUP inhabits, saying No is always easier than saying Yes.