On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on 6 October, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay indicated that the UK government could “rethink” its latest Brexit proposal to the EU, that would allow the DUP to veto EU alignment on the island of Ireland. And while Barclay’s announcement could be dismissed as mere rhetoric, it does expose how vulnerable the DUP is in current Brexit negotiations.
The current plan
As The Canary reported, Boris Johnson’s current Brexit proposal to the EU would leave the north of Ireland fenced in by two borders. This is because the north would leave the EU customs area, along with the UK, but it would stay in the EU single market area on agriculture and food products, along with the south of Ireland. It would also follow EU single market rules on agriculture and food products under this plan.
However, staying within the EU single market area is dependent on the northern government agreeing to do so. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, the north’s government, the Northern Ireland Assembly, has been suspended since 9 January 2017. Sinn Féin blames the DUP for this.
Secondly, even if the Assembly was to reconvene, a mechanism introduced by the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) known as a petition of concern could prevent the north following any EU rules at all. The GFA introduced this petition to prevent one community discriminating over another by allowing it to block contentious legislation. But it also has the other effect of allowing one community to impose a veto on the other.
A petition of concern would therefore mean that certain legislation, such as the north adhering to EU single market rules, might not pass through the Assembly without Sinn Féin and DUP support. The petition only requires the signature of 30 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to succeed. As there are 40 unionist MLAs, all of whom support Brexit, these MLAs could use this power as a veto.
The Irish government fears the DUP would use its power to veto. And worse still, Johnson’s proposal doesn’t detail what would happen if the DUP did so. But it could mean the north and the south would operate under different rules on food and agriculture, thereby making life very difficult for people living on the island of Ireland.
If the UK government removes this possibility from the DUP, it would mean no veto. But it would also leave the DUP somewhat powerless on Brexit. When it comes to broader UK politics, the DUP is a one trick pony. And it’s a pony that, if speculation comes to pass, could lose seats at the next election. This would confine it to complete irrelevancy.
Long way to go in such a short space of time
The clock is ticking on the UK’s Brexit leave date of 31 October. In fact, it’s even shorter given there’s a vital EU summit on 17 October. Realistically, all parts of a new Brexit puzzle need to be in place for that summit. And Barclay’s ‘rhetoric’ also demonstrates the clock could be ticking for the DUP.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?