The dust hasn’t settled after last Thursday’s unexpected hung Parliament in the snap UK general election. Theresa May’s decision to call the election while ahead by over 20 points in the polls has spectacularly backfired, forcing the Conservatives into a frantic search for parliamentary allies willing to support them in forming a minority government. At this stage the most likely partner appears to be the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland. Here we give you a rundown of who the DUP are and what they stand for.
Under the UK constitution, in the event of a hung parliament, the party with the highest number of seats in the Commons is granted the first opportunity to form a government. Theresa May’s Conservatives, having won 318 of 650 seats, are the largest party and therefore have this right. They now need to find a party which will hold the balance of power in Parliament.
Requiring the support of a further 8 MPs to command a working majority, the following minor parties could theoretically fill that gap:
- Scottish National Party (SNP) – 35 seats
- Liberal Democrats – 12 seats
- Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – 10 seats
However, the first two of these options won’t happen. Both the SNP and Lib Dems have vastly different views on Brexit than Theresa May’s vision of a “hard Brexit”. The SNP have demanded a softer Brexit alternative for Scotland, who voted decisively to remain within the EU last year. Furthermore, the SNP’s ultimate goal of Scottish independence is diametrically opposed to the Conservative’s preservation of the Union. The Lib Dems go even further regarding Brexit, calling for a second referendum on the final deal which would also include an option to remain within the EU.
The Democratic Unionist Party
That leaves Theresa May with the Northern Irish DUP, with whom she’s already announced the Conservatives will govern. On the EU issue, the DUP aligns with the Conservatives in its pro-Brexit stance. They campaigned heavily to leave the EU and desire a harder Brexit which brings the UK out of the single market and customs union. Like the Conservatives, they don’t want to see a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
On social issues, however, the DUP sits further to the right than the Conservatives. They have routinely vetoed same-sex marriage in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Moreover, their support for the region’s abortion ban is the only thing keeping it in place. This support remained unmoved despite a Belfast court recently declaring it incompatible with international human rights law.
Critics of the DUP in Government
One major criticism of the Conservative-DUP alliance is its effect on the fragile peace process in Northern Ireland. After years of sectarian violence between Republicans and Unionists, Catholics and Protestants, the UK government risks losing its impartiality in this process, having previously positioned itself at a neutral peace-broker in the region. With the recent breakdown of the NI Assembly earlier in the year, the Conservatives risk inflaming sectarian tensions further by allying themselves with one of the two sides in Westminster.
Brexit negotiations are due to commence next week. Judging by the current state of affairs it’s hard to imagine May’s “strong and stable government” mantra materializing.