Theresa May has lost no time in forming an electoral pact with the DUP, the Northern Irish Protestant/Unionist party, to give her a Commons majority of one.
This has consequences. Northern Irish politics is one-dimensional: it’s about the border, stupid. Republicans want to get rid of it and unite with the Republic, Unionists to keep it and stay in the United Kingdom. That’s it. But there is a wrinkle. One of the gains of the Good Friday peace deal was the end of border controls, which also depended on both the UK and the Republic of Ireland being in the EU. One of the very few things both factions in Northern Ireland can agree on is that the open border is just fine and should be kept. The DUP is now in a position to insist on this.
How is this possible after Brexit? Logically Brexit involves re-establishing immigration and customs controls at all EU borders. There are two ways to get round this in Ireland. One is a NI carve-out where Ulster is in a customs union with the Republic, but not the rest of the UK. The DUP will see this as handing Republicans at least half of the reunification they want. Not on. The other is for the whole UK to stay in the EU internal market, accepting Brussels rules on everything, all interpreted by the ECJ. This is what the City of London wants, but it’s been losing the argument against the “hard Brexit” ideologues. Now they have an ally in a position to impose its wishes. (Actually every single DUP MP can too. If one of them demands a large orange statue of Edward Carson in Parliament Square as the price of a key vote, it will go up.) Hard Brexit is dead.
The EU negotiator Michel Barnier knows this too, and his hand has been strengthened.
Sinn Fein won 7 seats too but by longstanding practice will not take them up, as every new MP must swear a oath of allegiance to the Crown. American readers note that the sitting President of the United States has less integrity than a bunch of retired Irish terrorists. I wonder though. If it came to a really critical vote about the border, perhaps Sinn Féin MPs could find a way to take the oath and become loyal subjects of the Queen for a day, vote, then resign their seats, get reelected in the by-elections, and return to the boycott.
Allegiance does not have to be a lifelong thing, and oaths can expire. I took an oath when I joined the Council of Europe not to take instructions from any government. I’m retired now, and the oath has surely ended with my service. I can write blogs (like this one) at the bidding of the Prince of Liechtenstein if I want. He hasn’t offered me enough yet.
Update: If you want to know where the DUP stands on other issues, see here and marvel. The party could be called “The making Neanderthals look good party”. That’s on top of the ties to loyalist terrorists. Look at Noel Little, the charming father of one of the new DUP MPs, Emma Pengelly.
In court it was said the loyalists were trying to get guns from South Africa in exchange for information about advanced missile systems after parts of a Blowpipe missile and a model of a Javelin missile went missing from a Short Brothers plant at Castlereagh and from a Territorial Army depot in Newtownards.