When the Conservative Party announced its marriage of convenience to the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, many of us had tears in our eyes.
We were upset that Theresa May had found some stooges who were willing to prop up a minority Conservative government for the sake of a large bung – £1 billion, almost half of which has been delivered – and we were weeping for the future of the country we love.
The honeymoon period – in which we watched the DUP supporting the Tories’ terrible policies time and time again – was bitterly uncomfortable, and no doubt many of us wondered if we would be able to stomach it for the full five-year term of current Tory governments.
Fortunately, it seems unlikely that we will have to put up with it that long.
And it was the Conservative Party – the partner that needed the alliance to succeed – that was unfaithful.
Theresa May ran off to the EU and promised that Brexit would include a deal on the Northern Irish border that the DUP could not tolerate, as it allots special treatment to NI that is not afforded to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Either she had not mentioned it, or she thought she didn’t need to do so, because Tories have such a monumental sense of entitlement that she probably thought the DUP was lucky to be in a “confidence and supply” deal with her.
That was a huge mistake, and a sign that Mrs May doesn’t know her history, which shows that Hell hath no fury like an Irishwoman scorned.
Yesterday evening (November 19), Arlene Foster’s followers in Westminster pointed this out to Mrs May – by abstaining on Budget votes, and actually supporting the Labour Party on one amendment.
It isn’t the end of the deal between the Tories and the DUP – to continue the marriage metaphor, it’s the equivalent of a slighted partner making their displeasure felt and warning that worse may follow if the other partner doesn’t get back in line.
None of the votes had a serious effect on the Conservatives because they did not have financial consequences for the government.
But the message is clear: The deal with the EU, as agreed by Mrs May, is unacceptable to the DUP and the government will lose its Parliamentary majority – and therefore its ability to function – if the prime minister refuses to change it.
Now for the important part: This puts Mrs May in an impossible position.
The EU will not accept changes to the deal, and it seems unlikely that it will be possible to negotiate a new agreement before the UK decouples from that bloc on March 29 next year.
But the alternative is an effective vote of “no confidence” in the Conservatives’ ability to govern, which traditionally leads to the resignation of the government and the main Opposition party taking office.
The current Tory government is an unscrupulous crowd, and may refuse to honour that convention – but the alternative is powerlessness. What will Mrs May do?
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