How the Tory-DUP government will fall

A bold forecast: the UK government will fall in the Summer or Autumn, with a general election in mid to late 2018.

It will be the withdrawal of DUP support which will make it fall. For speed here, I won’t do the maths of the vote or the procedure under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

The DUP withdrawal goes something like this:

  1. Officially, the DUP backs the Tory line: the UK will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union, and any proposal from the ROI or EU to put a border of any kind in the Irish Sea is utterly unacceptable and a non-starter. They maintain that a solution will be found to make the border “seamless”.
  2. The EU will back the ROI’s robust position to the hilt. The Commission team will not agree to move towards phase 2 of the negotiations because it knows full well that this would simply allow the border issue to become a bargaining chip. There is simply no trust in the UK government to act honourably, not least as it has acted so dishonourably to date on non-UK EU citizen rights.
  3. Time will tick by to the sound of heated but vacuous from the arch-Brexiteers. There will no substantive progress, The DUP will get nervous, because their real position is not the same as the official position set out at 1.
  4. The real DUP position is actually as follows.

The DUP wants to be forced, and want to be seen to be forced, to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union*.

This would achieve two things. First, the massive impact of hard border/hard Brexit (especially on agri-business) will not actually be visited on their voters, so they won’t be blamed for destroying livelihoods.

Second, they get to blame the Foreign Powers (ROI And EU) for forcing them into the position they secretly want to be forced into, especially if what they are forced into includes a special stats for Northern Ireland, and some kind of Irish Sea customs border.

5. But this cunning strategy, has been based on a key assumption: that the Davis team, with cabinet backing, will actually back off and accept the need either for Northern Ireland special status or for a Norway-style Brexit.

6. The problem is that, with the rise of the sectarian, Good Friday agreement-hating, scorched earth fanatic Gove, his lieutenant Johnson and other fantasists like Rees-Mogg, the assumption at 5 — made quite early in the game — is no longer valid. These people actually do want a hard Brexit, with a hard border, because they really do believe that this is their mission, and that right is on their side.

7. So over the early months of 2018, the DUP will start to re-evaluate their position. They will realise they have miscalculated, and that by continuing to back the Tories, they actually do risk economic meltdown. The internal battles and calculations will start.

8. There are then two scenarios, but both lead to the collapse of the government by DUP withdrawal:

a) If the Tories continue to be led by the fanatic Gove and hard Brexit/border looks a looming reality, the DUP will choose domestic interest, in the context of their narrow Stormont majority (whether or not powers are restored), and find some excuse to leave the May-DUP deal.

b) If the UK government finally backs off, and starts to edge towards special status for Northern Ireland, the DUP will feel bound, because of what they have said already, to leave the May-DUP deal, citing treachery.

9. All this will take some time to play out within DUP circles, with battles between the realists who know that their bread is buttered by domestic hegemony amongst the traditional loyalist vote, but that most voters do not want change to the status quo, and the remaining hardliners egged on by Gove &co.. The realists will win by the summer of 2018, possibly at the expense of Foster’s leadership. The DUP will pull from the deal, and enough will join a vote of no confidence for the Tory government to fall.

*Arguably the Labour strategy to date is jut an adjustment to the pre-referendum strategy, which was to be seen to support Brexit, but in the belief that it wouldn’t actually happen. This would have given them a consequence-free narrative about standing up bravely to the Foreign Powers.

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Paul Cotterill

Secretary General, Habermasian Labour (UK). Indefatigably focused on the promotion of ethical discourse in the public sphere, except when there's cricket.