From the offset, this week was described as one that would be hellish for Theresa May. However, the DUP have given fresh meaning to ‘hell week’ after embarking on a PR offensive to make their displeasure at the government’s Irish backstop proposals known. Today the Prime Minister meets with a select number of Cabinet ministers (those seen as supportive) to update them on the Brexit talks – but the people she desperately needs to win over are Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds.
Foster and her colleagues have seen red after details have emerged of May’s backstop proposals. These proposals would see different regulatory systems for goods in Britain and Northern Ireland. With such a system, it’s hard to see how Northern Ireland could be part of new global trade deals the UK signs. Given that the DUP’s red line is that they don’t want an special treatment, this isn’t a goer. What has made matters worse is the fact that No 10 appear not to have been straight with their confidence and supply partner – many of the details have come from Brussels or Barnier.
A sign of how angry the DUP are can be found in an article one of its MPs – Sammy Wilson – has penned for the Telegraph. He declares that ‘we will not be bullied into propping up a soft-touch Government which gives in to the EU’s demands’. There’s also talk of voting down the Budget later this month if things continue in this way. In a sign of things to come, the DUP have abstained on the agricultural bill.
So, how can No 10 turn things back around? I understand there is a deep frustration from senior Tories at the way Downing Street have handled this. The level of mistrust between the DUP and the Tories means that anything Theresa May says to them will be taken with a pinch of salt. The problem for No 10 is that even if Arlene Foster’s party wouldn’t go so far as to actually bring down the government, few believe in a match of Theresa May and the DUP, it’s the DUP who would blink first. Something will have to give.