The DUP Tail Wagging the European Dog


For those of us who grew up on the island of Ireland the DUP and their political antecedents are a known, if unloved, quantity.

I met the founding father of the DUP, Dr Ian Paisley, at Stormont in 1968 on a schoolboy civics trip from St Paul’s College Raheny Dublin. He was quite charming in person in total contrast to the firebrand image he radiated on television.

His thoughts on the EU (the “final manifestation” of the evil Roman Empire, the kingdom of the anti-Christ) show a mindset more suited to the 17th than 21st century. Here a quote from 2000.

Knowing the Bible should make us realise that it is pure folly to want to join (via ecumenism) this final apostasy of Babylon which is Biblically and historically wrong. Rome is unchanging, unrepentant and arrogant without change. People are striving for unity with this beast as though it was something required as a necessity in this life and for the next. Such folly when our gracious Lord brought us out of such bondage in the Sixteenth century. . . . What folly to return.

There is a probably apocryphal tale of an air hostess on landing in Northern Ireland advising the passengers to put their watch back one hour and three hundred years.

I’ve written about the DUP in detail before, but in brief, they have an all consuming terror of being devoured by their southern neighbour and a unwavering belief in their superiority and invincibility.

Clout far beyond their Electoral Strength

Because of the parliamentary arithmetic after the 2017 GE the DUP hold the balance of power and entered a confidence and supply arrangement with the current government. This raised an alarm bell as the Belfast Agreement (GFA) – an international treaty lodged at the UN, ensures strict impartiality on the part of the sovereign government in NI, currently HMG. From the GFA:

…the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos, and aspirations of both communities.

Rigorous impartiality? My arse (in the immortal words of Ricky Tomlinson).

The DUP are not representative of Northern Ireland. It is true that they have 10 MPs (now the diagraced Ian Paisley Jnr has reentered the fold) but that was achieved with just 292,316 votes – 36% of the NI votes cast in 2017. In contrast to their closest soulmates in Britain, UKIP polled more than twice as many votes but ended up with no seats. (In 2015 UKIP polled more than ten times the DUP and ended with 1 seat).

The DUP are successful because their electorate are concentrated into the Unionist heartland – a very small region as shown in Fig 1.

Fig 1. The Unionist heartland


The DUP were the only major NI party to support Brexit. What is worrying is that many of its core voters are fanatical Brexit supporters to an extent that a recent poll showed 87% of NI Leave voters think a collapse of the peace process is a price worth paying for Brexit. Despite what the DUP say publicly many in the DUP want a hard border, and the harder the better. They display an extreme form of ethnic British Nationalism as discussed in my recent Slugger O’Toole article (chosen for the launch of the Future Ireland series): Northern Ireland and the Humpty Dumpty World of Schrödinger’s Cats (also here on Progressive Pulse).

The European Context

The DUP are currently in Brussels for three days of talks. They are determined not to have a border on the Irish Sea, despite the fact that a majority (almost certainly a super-majority) would choose a sea rather than a land border if it were the only choice.

Three days are a long time for talks. More than saying “No! No No!”, “Never! Never! Never!” and “No Surrender!” it is difficult to see what more the DUP can say. Barnier knows NI extremely well. It is not that the DUP’s arguments are unheard, it is that they are weak. The belief that the backstop is in any way a constitutional threat to NI is nonsense, though it is an extremely useful conceit for UKGov in bargaining with the EU.

It is bizarre that they have so much power. Less than a week ago Barnier met Michelle O’Neill (Sinn Féin), Colum Eastwood (SDLP), Stephen Farry (Alliance), and Stephen Agnew (Greens), who emphasised that they represent the majority in the North who opposed Brexit -and have a majority in the NI assembly. They believe rightly that the backstop is not a threat to the constitutional position of the North but a pragmatic attempt to “protect citizens and businesses on the island.”

A useful map provided by Derek Mooney (@dsmooney) which shows the DUP heartland in the European context emphasises again how bizarre it is that they can wield such power.


Fig 2. DUP heartland in a European Context


The Ultimate Irony

The ultimate irony of course is that NI will remain part of the UK as long as the majority of its voters wish to do so. The one thing which will most alienate Nationalist and moderate Unionist voters is a hard border on the island of Ireland. The recent Delta Poll showed a 56% to 44% split in favour of a United Ireland in the case of Brexit plus a hard border. If the DUP are successful they will have done more to ensure a United Ireland win in the past three years than Sinn Féin and the PIRA did in the last thirty.

Their ultraconservative views are also an Achilles Heel, particularly the lack of gay and abortion rights. Women in particular seem to have had enough. The most startling statistic from the Delta Poll is the greater than 2:1 female support for a United Ireland in the case of Brexit plus a Hard Border.

Fig. 3 Female voting intentions in the case of Brexit plus a hard border.


  1. Peter May -

    Agree with this but I take the practical view that – in effect – the DUP is acting to stop Brexit so for the time being, I’ll put up with seventeenth century views!

    1. Sean Danaher -

      The three Brexit options have always been a hard border on the island of Ireland, an Irish Sea border or a very close relationship with the EU.

      I would prefer no Brexit at all but a Norway type result is the next worst option – and indeed where I thought we would end up if we left the EU.

      If the DUP get us to a Norway type solution then things will indeed work out for the best (in Brexit terms).

      Talks could of course fail completely with a disastrous crash out Brexit – it is a high stakes game.

  2. Ian Stevenson -

    as someone born in Jersey, but who has lived in England since 1951, it seems to me that the problem is not the technicalities of the border. It is that the majority of people in Ireland, North and South, want to be part of the EU and that posh English (not Scottish) politicians wave away the Irish wishes and concern and insist they implement their English wishes over their theirs. The Irish can be quite stubborn and Rees-Mogg et al might be surprised at how hard they resist.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Its a good point. IE is very pro EU and even more EU after the Brexit vote up from c 80% to 90%. NI was 56% remain at the time of the referendum but around 70% remain now.

      If IE were part of the UK at the time of the referendum there would have been enough votes for a narrow Remain majority.

      There is no way the Irish will put the wishes of a band of “posh” English above their own. The UK is not powerful enough economically, though it is militarily.

      Invasion of Ireland is not really an option.

      Ireland has also been lucky and has an “A” team running the Brexit process – from parliament and through the civil and diplomatic service. There is also a unity of purpose and a determination not to have a hard border. There has also been steadfast backing from the EU26 and an intimate understanding of how the EU operates.

      The UK has a “E?” team, muddling through is all very well, but there is disarray and incompetence at nearly all levels – from government, through DexEU to the diplomatic service. There is a willingness to shoot the messenger as Sir Ivan Rogers found out to his cost.

      II think you are right in that JRM and his ilk have no conception as to the depth of resistance the Irish have to a hard border. They are not used to loosing – not since Lord North’s time and the loss of the American Colonies.

      An interesting few weeks lie ahead.

  3. Samuel Johnson -

    Indeed, it seems it has come down to whether some Etonians can impose their will on a majority of the population of the neighbouring island. “What part of the United Kingdom voted to leave did you not understand Paddy?” How about the part where the English, with 84% of the population, get to impose decisions on the rest of the UK? And then claim that, despite the gerrymandered franchise, that what was done democratically was irreversible.

    The stupidity and obtuseness of the patronising Etonians who know nothing and care less about Ireland is alienating just about everyone, including the DUP. According to Rees-Mogg the Irish have been “interfering in UK affairs” for a long time. A statement so lacking in self-awareness there is no scale on which to measure the profundity of its ignorant entitlement and appropriation of victimhood.

    All anyone who believes in govt of the people, by the people, for the people, can do is watch in dismay as Etonians and associates burn down the UK in their contest for office, and in which Ireland is, at best, collateral damage. Yet the Irish prevailed against the most powerful empire on earth once. Without the support of 27 other European democracies, or half the population of the UK. Yet, a “Titanic success” is conceivable,. For the iceberg.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Yes is is extraordinary. I think Michael Collins asked of the old Etonian type set “How did these idiots ever manage to run an empire?”

      Ireland has just joined the French version of the Commonwealth – my wife said it is inverse version of ‘Up Yours Delors!’ a famous S*n headline from 1990.

      Brexit will range from disastrous to catastrophic for the UK. I certainly feel schadenfreude towards the old Etonians, but certainly not for millions of the decent UK citizens whose lives will be made immeasurably poorer.

      Ireland will survive and almost certainly prosper. I strongly support a People’s Vote – feel that I need to do what I can to keep the option on the table.

      If you haven’t had time to read Anthony Barnett book the Lure of Greatness here is a video. The UK has managed to get itself into a mess – the rise of English Nationalism was not anticipated and is not understood.

  4. Andrew (Andy) Crow -

    “…..I think Michael Collins asked of the old Etonian type set “How did these idiots ever manage to run an empire?””

    I believe the Scots took care of much of the empire administration, while the old Etonian tendency swanned about like peacocks.

    Some things don’t change much. But will have to.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      Yes that’s very true and the Irish were more heavily involved also than they care to admit – history is always more complicated than simple narratives. Maybe a no deal Brexit should go ahead. A United Ireland and independent Scotland within a decade and the English finally growing up and realising they are not better than everyone else

      1. Samuel Johnson -

        As my granny used to say, “the chance would be a fine thing”.

        I think the Irish can reasonably claim to have been conscripted did after all make repeated efforts to free the country of British rule. Incidentally, Black 47 is a fine film if you get a chance to see it.

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