The Democratic Unionist Party Could Hold the Balance of Power in Parliament, but Who Are They and What Are Their Policies?

"Minister of State Mike Penning with President of the European Commission Manuel Barroso, NIE Ministers Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill" by Northern Ireland Office is licensed under CC BY 2.0

After pre-election polls and subsequent exit polls yesterday proved to be accurate, that Theresa May’s Conservative Party would not have a majority in Parliament, it looks like The Democratic Unionist Party (the DUP) could hold the balance of power.

Not in a formal coalition like we saw in 2010 but via agreements made between the two parties, the 10 elected seats the DUP won following yesterday’s election are set to propel the Tories to a slender majority just short of the majority held prior to May’s decision to call the snap General Election.

Although earning a higher percentage of votes than David Cameron did in 2015, May’s Conservatives lost out in key seats to Labour, losing overall 12 seats with Labour gaining 29 – many of which were in London as well as Scotland where the SNP lost 21 seats, reducing their presence in Parliament to 35 seats.

This morning Theresa May visited Buckingham Palace to gain permission from the Queen to form a government. According to Theresa May’s speech outside Downing Street, the Conservatives will be supported by the right-wing Northern Irish party (the DUP).

The DUP only have 10 seats and therefore, normally would possess relatively little swing in Westminster. However, if they are to agree to vote with the Tories, the Tories may in turn need to offer concessions in-line with some of the DUP’s policies.

Firstly the DUP are staunchly opposed to a hard Brexit, which could prove to be a stumbling block in forging an unofficial coalition with May’s Conservatives in the first place.

Party leader Arlene Foster said, “No-one wants to see a ‘hard’ Brexit, what we want to see is a workable plan to leave the European Union, and that’s what the national vote was about – therefore we need to get on with that.

“However, we need to do it in a way that respects the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland, and, of course, our shared history and geography with the Republic of Ireland.”

Secondly, they strictly oppose same-sex marriage, with Northern Ireland remaining the only part of the UK where same-sex marriage is not legal. Some senior figures in the party have called for this issue to be prominent in power-sharing discussions in Westminster.

As well as same-sex marriage, abortion is also not legal in Northern Ireland mostly because of the DUP. The party vowed last year to retain the ban on abortions despite protests against such a policy. Foster told the Guardian: “I would not want abortion to be as freely available here as it is in England and don’t support the extension of the 1967 act.”

Furthermore, some of their members disregard science, believe the Earth was created in 6 days and only 10,000 years ago and deny there’s any proof of climate change. Many in the party support the policy of such ideologies being taught in mainstream schools.

People today have also highlighted the party’s past whereby supporting terrorists/extremists. Arlene Foster ironically spoke about Jeremy Corbyn saying, “There were many fine people who reached out to the IRA and asked them to desist. He [Corbyn] actually supported them, he wanted them to win!”

Today Arlene Foster has said, “We’ll wait to hear what the results actually are, but we are very pleased with the way in which people have reacted to the positive message of the campaign – it was about the Union, the importance of the Union, and unionists have really come out in their numbers.

“We fought this election on the importance of the Union and I think people really responded to that.”

For now, May remains as Prime Minister. She holds a minority in the House of Commons, will be supported on some level by the DUP and somehow must now navigate Britain through Brexit negotiations starting in just under two weeks. We are in for a period of significant uncertainty. Whilst the DUP allow the Tories to form a government that together could successfully push policies through, yesterday’s election can only be seen as a significant loss and backward step for May, the Conservative’s and UK as a whole.

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