BLOG: DUP DEAL

DUP DEAL

With Britain embarking on momentous changes in its trading and diplomatic relationships and with Labour consumed by a damaging ideological struggle, the last thing the country needs is another general election, soon.

So at this crucial time in our history, you cannot blame the Prime Minister wanting to form a Government in the national interest. With the most seats and most votes, and ignoring the spin from Corbyn’s cheerleaders, only the Conservatives actually had the ability and legitimacy to be able to do that.

We have always had a strong relationship with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP); this is why the confidence and supply deal has finally been finalised. I’m not saying it’s ideal; we would have much preferred to have a majority of our own. That was not to be, so we have to deal with the cards dealt to us. Yes, it’s an arrangement born out of necessity on our part but the DUP, naturally suspicious of the EU, campaigned for Leave and this country also voted for Leave in the referendum so there is common ground on that most urgent of issues, at least. Critics like Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Greens, have championed the idea of parties working together – except that is, when the parties fail to conform to her idea of a ‘progressive alliance’. Then there is the stunning hypocrisy of the Labour party who wanted to do a deal with the DUP in 2010 and 2015.

And is it not a good thing that for the first time in recent history we have a Government which has representation in all four nations of the United Kingdom? We need a strong Union for Brexit negotiations, so the deal that emerges now has to work for everyone. The EU can no longer weaken us by driving a wedge between England and Scotland, which is what Sturgeon would have wished for. This deal has unintentionally strengthened the United Kingdom rather than weakened it.

At the same time, I am fully aware there are a number of concerns with this approach that I want to address directly.

As your MP, I will continue to promote and champion equal rights. Conservatives in Government introduced same sex marriage and earlier this year passed 'Turing's law' to remove historic convictions for consensual acts. As I work with others to govern in the national interest we will continue to promote and champion the equal rights we believe in.

Besides, the DUP blocking of same sex message probably no longer commands majority support at home never mind exporting it across the water. The DUP are shrewd enough to realise that and pressure to change at home will not let up from far wider than Sinn Fein. They will surely lie low on this issue. The truth is that devolution did make progress on LGBT rights harder in Northern Ireland until this year – but it never entailed a reversion to the “Save Ulster From Sodomy” agenda. So progress on LGBT rights has and will continue to happen and would have done so even if the deal between Theresa May and the DUP had not gone ahead. Sometimes there has to be a slow evolution when it comes to changing people’s attitudes especially in a traditional, less socially progressive environment such as Northern Ireland is.

The abortion issue is the other big moral dispute in Northern Ireland and the law is devolved, unlike in Scotland. Until only a couple of years ago no party supported any reform, and certainly not the extension of the 1967 Act, to Ulster. Now the SDLP which represents many devout Catholics has split on the issue — and even the DUP is no longer holding the line on aspects of ‘reproductive health’. Here, dozens of Conservative MPs expressed to Tory whips their support for an amendment by the Labour MP Stella Creasey to allow Northern Irish women access to NHS-funded abortions in Great Britain and that is now going ahead. This should also be seen as a good illustration of how coalitions can work, one that was cross party, even gender led between formidable female MPs such as Creasey and Amber Rudd. Maybe this new feminist coalition can work together on other reproductive freedoms. Certainly the momentum is now here, and if we are working with the DUP surely we now have more influence on them.

On the Northern Ireland peace process, we are all committed to re-establishing inclusive, devolved government in Northern Ireland. The approach and objectives as set out in The Conservative Party Northern Ireland manifesto remain unchanged, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland continues to work to restore a Northern Ireland Executive as soon as possible.

Governing in the national interest will mean delivering a successful Brexit that works for the whole country. It means building on our economic record of more jobs, cutting the deficit and investing more in public services like the NHS. It means tackling the social issues we face in the country: issues such as mental health, housing, and proper technical education for young people.

            On a personal level, I was a Minister in Northern Ireland under the first Cameron Government and I got to know and like the First Minister Arlene Foster well. I would count her as a friend as I do many of her colleagues. The DUP under her is now much more socially progressive. It no longer represents the bigoted and sectarian anti-catholic sentiments of the Rev Ian Paisley. Arlene is not even a member of the Orange Order. In Belfast the DUP is increasingly reflective of the population that votes for it, which includes thousands of non-churchgoing Protestants. Arlene is an Anglican like Theresa May and a Lawyer, she has Catholic and gay friends and drinks alcohol. I have shared a glass or two with her myself over the years. She is patriotic and pro-monarchy like most Conservatives. She sees her place within the United Kingdom as her key to survival.  She is a thoroughly decent woman.

            Where the party actually differs from us Conservatives, here in the UK, is that it is actually much more to the left in some of its views than we are which should make Mr Corbyn happy. Its manifesto opposed the Conservative policy of removing the triple lock and introducing means-testing for the winter fuel allowance.  Both these now look as if they have been removed from the manifesto. It also wanted to be exempted from the BBC licence fee and air passenger duty. It actually has a spending mentality rather than a saving one, which in part, is due to years of conflict and trying to haul itself back on its feet again. Remember the money they have gained will go across the previous warring communities and hopefully help further bridge the divides. Even Sinn Fein will have some say over its expenditure if and when the Assembly is up and running again.

Scotland and Wales and yes, even the South West, have complained about the unfairness but none of these regions have been through the decades of hell as Northern Ireland has so they need to cut some slack on that one.

            As I said, I do not doubt the nervousness people feel about us doing this deal; it is well reflected throughout my social media and the letters I am receiving. But the savaging of the DUP in the media is somewhat excessive and at times looks like borderline racism. Members of Sinn Fein escape similar scrutiny. Calling members of the DUP ‘dinosaurs’ ‘anti-women’s rights’ ‘climate-change deniers’ ‘Orange bigots’ is unfair and unhelpful. After all you would never say any of these things about Muslims, many of whom share similar views. Therefore, is attacking white Christians acceptable?

So let’s give the DUP a chance. Yes, they have been dealt a lucky hand and are making the most of it, but would we really prefer a minority government led by Mr Gerry Adam’s good mates, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell? Would we want Sinn Fein coming back to sit on the green benches to prop them up?  No thank you!