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Northern unionist commentator Newton Emerson on the DUP tactics:

Does the DUP really believe it can obstruct Brexit, Stormont and Westminster indefinitely?

After the fuss over DUP leader Arlene Foster's reference to a "blood red" line, comparatively little fuss has been made about her party threatening "guerrilla war".

The phrase was used by an unnamed DUP source in an interview last weekend and raised eyebrows sufficiently for the UUP to tell Foster to rein in this "reckless language".

The DUP turns out to have a tragically laddish back office culture. The same source, referring to the Conservatives, said: "We are going to squeeze their balls until their ears bleed".

It was the Tories all this language was aimed at. The DUP believes any sea border arrangement in a backstop would become permanent. If it cannot block a Withdrawal Agreement involving such an arrangement it is planning to fight on to prevent its implementation.

The fighting would be on two fronts. In Northern Ireland, the source claimed the DUP would refuse to re-enter Stormont even if that meant a permanent collapse of devolution.

Stormont is still officially necessary to implement the backstop. Many of the regulatory powers required for single market alignment are devolved and there is a role for Northern Ministers in the backstop's UK-EU implementation body, agreed at negotiators' level.

In addition, the British government promised any regulatory divergence across the Irish Sea would have to be approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, and this was included in last December's EU-UK joint report, even if Brussels has since declined to acknowledge it.

The second front was explained this Monday by DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds. Speaking to the BBC, he said any sea border would cause his party to cancel its confidence and supply deal with the Tories and withhold support for most domestic legislation, including budgets. However, the DUP would not oppose the government on votes of confidence, to avoid triggering an election and placing Labour's Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10.

The DUP appears to have conceded that it can't completely block Theresa May from conceding on the "border in the Irish sea issue" because of the risk of bringing Jeremy Corbyn to power. Instead they would try to make life as difficult as possible for her and block any implementation of the deal. However that might not happen for a couple of years, at the end of the Transition period, and who knows who would be in power then?

However Newton's second point is even more interesting. The DUP has long demanded that the Good Friday Agreement's insistence on cross-community power sharing government by the two main parties representing unionism and nationalism be scrapped because it gives Sinn Fein an effective veto on the formation of a government (Executive). Now that proposal could be turned on its head by preventing the DUP from having an effective veto...

Replacing mandatory coalition with voluntary coalition would allow the four other main parties at Stormont to form an Executive representing, on current numbers, two-thirds of Assembly members and 62 per cent of the electorate.

There would still need to be compulsory power sharing for nationalist buy-in but the UUP remains large enough to fill the unionist role, providing it could face down DUP accusations of selling out.

UUP leader Robin Swann called for voluntary coalition in his annual conference speech last October, although he was presumably not anticipating a nationalist-majority coalition.

However, the DUP is most closely associated with this proposal. It has always aspired to introduce voluntary coalition and has suggested it as the answer to every Stormont deadlock, until now.

After Sinn Féin walked out of the Executive in January 2017, the DUP called again for voluntary coalition. In subsequent talks to restore the Executive, its main demand was a rule change to ensure either of the big two parties walking out would not cause another collapse.

The DUP has only fallen silent on this subject since it abandoned a restoration deal with Sinn Féin this February, and became the party taking everyone's ball away.

In 2014, during a three-year crisis caused by Sinn Féin's refusal to implement welfare reform, Foster's predecessor Peter Robinson said Stormont was no longer fit for purpose and called for a "St Andrews 2" to introduce voluntary coalition, in reference to the 2006 talks that made major changes to the Belfast Agreement.

At St Andrews, the British and Irish governments ganged up on the DUP to bounce it into an Executive. A repeat today might see both governments edge the DUP out, hoisted by its own petard.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Oct 18th, 2018 at 05:45:17 PM EST

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