DUP has signalled to its base it will defend the union as always
Arlene Foster: said the “economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way”
Northern Ireland’s union with Scotland, England and Wales is described by the DUP as its “guiding star”, and always to the forefront of its representatives’ minds.
Fears over the detail on the future of the Border in documents which were set to be agreed by the British government and the EU, suggesting regulatory alignment across Ireland after Brexit, led to DUP politicians lining up to insist Northern Ireland must leave on the same terms as the rest of the UK.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the detail of the text was unacceptable to her party, and that the “economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way”.
Unionist commentator and academic Sophie Long said Ms Foster’s statement on Monday in response to the detail of the proposed deal was “intriguing in that it suggested we may see – as Fintan O’Toole suggested – the UK leaving Brexit on the same terms as Northern Ireland”.
“She specifically mentioned some ‘practical recognition’ of the economic contribution EU migrants make to Northern Ireland, and we might see this replicated across the UK to ensure continued access to vital skills and labour,” Ms Long said. “Both the Conservatives and DUP are largely pro-business, pro-market parties and are likely to support such terms.”
Ms Long said to believe the DUP had sabotaged a planned Tory deal because it included special terms for Northern Ireland underestimated the party.
“Whilst they are not as dedicated to long-term strategy as Sinn Féin, they are not wholly shortsighted either. They are signalling to their base that they will defend the union – as they have always signalled – whilst signing whichever deals are necessary to maintain power and access to resources.”
Ms Long believes in ideological terms the DUP version of Britishness is “alien and at times offensive to the people of Great Britain”.
“They are intelligent enough to recognise Northern Ireland is a unique part of the UK. It is, however, encouraging to witness their new found love for the Good Friday Agreement – citing it regularly and insisting it is not breached.”
Political sociologist Katy Hayward said in recent times senior Tories have been repeatedly using the phrase “constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom” when it comes down to Northern Ireland, suggesting there is a risk to it.
“This phrase is now being repeated by the DUP,” she said. “Because there has been a sense that that’s at risk here, particularly in relation to specific arrangements for Northern Ireland, then I think they have kind of been boxed into a corner a little bit because the sense was that if there was any differentiation that there is a chance of risk to the constitutional integrity of the UK.”