Time to decide, Mr. Brokenshire

Posted By: July 22, 2017

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Saturday, July 22, 2017

The much-discussed deal between the Conservatives and the DUP was supposed to last for a full five-year parliamentary term but has actually managed to run into considerable trouble within rather less than five weeks.

After Theresa May had lost her overall majority in the last UK general election, she attempted to remain in power by announcing what was described as a “confidence and supply” arrangement with Arlene Foster’s party.

The plan was that, in return for allocating an additional £1 billion to public spending in Northern Ireland over the next two years, the votes of the 10 DUP MPs would keep Mrs. May in office.

However, all the grins and handshakes for the cameras at Downing Street failed to disguise the tensions and contradictions which were just below the surface.

Tory representatives in Wales and especially Scotland felt entirely marginalized while many of the party’s English MPs also did not hesitate to express their concerns.

Backbencher Heidi Allen stood up in the House of Commons to say “I could barely put into words my anger” at the DUP pact and demanded that fundamental changes should follow.

The secretary of state, James Brokenshire, was left in a particularly exposed position, trying to insist that he was a neutral chair of the inter-party talks at a stage when his prime minister was virtually in coalition with one of participating groups.

It was hardly a surprise that he would come under heavy criticism, but he may not have anticipated that one of the most personalized attacks should come from the senior ranks of the DUP itself.

When pressed during a BBC interview earlier this week on whether the extra £1bn depended on the restoration of the suspended executive, Mr. Brokenshire avoided a direct answer and said he did not wish to get involved in speculation.

Wilson, one of the DUP MPs so vital to Mrs. May’s survival, immediately took aim at Mr. Brokenshire, saying he had engaged in “naivety,” was “cack-handed” and should stop “pussyfooting around.”

Mr. Brokenshire has already been told by Sinn Féin that he should withdraw from the Stormont talks whenever they resume and allow a new independent mediator to take charge of the


It has been a difficult period for Mr. Brokenshire, and he needs to decide whether his priority is facilitating the return of the devolved administration or protecting his party’s understanding with the DUP at Westminster.

He will also be acutely aware that the well-documented splits in Mrs. May’s cabinet, and the growing storm clouds surrounding the Brexit process, mean that a new prime minister could soon be on the way in any event.