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A DUP-Tory alliance could make unionism unacceptable
Things look different now the prime minister has survived the weekend and cobbled together a deal with the DUP.

While the arrangement is obviously fragile, the Tories have little choice but to try and make it durable. They will not trigger an election that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour might win - suddenly a realistic prospect.

They will even struggle to rid themselves of May. Rightly or wrongly, the British public expects prime ministers to have a personal mandate. A minority government with an "unelected" head looks untenable.

Dependence on a handful of Northern Ireland MPs can in contrast be surprisingly tenable. One SDLP MP propped up a Labour government through the last half of the 1970s, before bringing it down in a no-confidence motion.

The DUP's 10 MPs are a solid support by comparison, giving the Conservatives a working majority of seven.

So no election for several years is plausible and the autumn timetable for restoring Stormont once again looks doable. The DUP unquestionably remains desperate to get back into office in Belfast. Power in London is glorious but fleeting, as it knows.

Despite Newton Emerson's argument that Sinn Fein needs to get back into a devolved Government in Belfast, I remain unconvinced they will be in any hurry to do so, unless they can use it to swing very significant concessions from the DUP/Conservative Government on welfare cuts, support for Irish language initiatives, and above all on Brexit:   No hard border with the South.

How May squares that circle will be interesting. Either she has to reverse course on the Single market and the Customs Union, or she has to negotiate some kind of special status for N. Ireland - something the DUP have said they are against.

However, if the EU were agreeable to N. Ireland becoming some kind of free trade zone between the UK and the EU, a very advantageous Brexit deal for N. Ireland might be possible. The problem would be to prevent N. Ireland becoming a smuggler's channel bypassing any Tariffs that might arise between the EU/UK. A system of customs pre-clearance and customs Certificates of Origin might just be feasible given good will on all sides and might be acceptable to all if Tariffs were seen as a temporary necessity pending the agreement of a more comprehensive free trade deal.

Temporary arrangements have a way of becoming permanent however, and the EU might well be wary of such an arrangement. The Irish Government would be an enthusiastic backer, however, and could threaten to veto any post Brexit deal requiring unanimity unless a way is found around the hard border issue.  

A hard border would destabilise the Irish Government as well as the Northern peace process, so a perhaps surprising congruence of interests between the British and Irish governments, Sinn Fein and the DUP could emerge. There are other similar anomalies within the EU in small territories such as Andorra, Gibraltar, Jersey, and Lichtenstein.  The question is, is N. Ireland small enough not to matter too much in the grand scheme of things?

We are a long way from any such agreement just yet, but I could see it becoming viable as the end game approached and it made all the difference between a post Brexit deal being agreed or not. Watch this space.

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by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 12th, 2017 at 10:38:29 AM EST

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