By Adam Shaw
The British government is walking a political tightrope as it balances its minority government’s need for the Commons votes of its 10 MPs with its obligation to be neutral over the future of Stormont.
Power sharing talks resumed this week in Belfast overseen by North Secretary James Brokenshire and Ireland’s Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan. They resumed as Sinn Fein’s seven abstentionist MPs – who could bring Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn closer to a Commons majority if they wished – arrived in London while other MPs, including those of the DUP, were sworn in.
The DUP and Sinn Fein – who have ruled Stormont together for the past ten years – wiped out the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party and SDLP last week.
Outgoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny tweeted:
Spoke w PM May -indicated my concern that nothing should happen to put GoodFridayAgrmt at risk & absence of nationalist voice in Westminster
— Enda Kenny (@EndaKennyTD) June 11, 2017
Downing Street said that Mrs May had told Mr Kenny that the deal with the DUP “would provide stability and certainty for the UK going forward”.
But even as outgoing Taoiseach Kenny directly warned Prime Minister May of her obligation to treat all of Northern Ireland’s parties even-handedly, his successor, Leo Varadkar, held out the hope that the DUP’s hold over Mrs May’s majority might now mean “a soft Brexit” compared to her earlier stance.
“Our role as governments is to act as co-guarantors, not to be too close to any particular party in the North, whether it’s nationalist parties or unionist parties.
“That’s certainly something I will emphasise in any contacts I have with Prime Minister May,” he said.
The pro-Brexit DUP nevertheless wants no return to a Border and customs controls between north and south and wants continued access to the EU single market.
Like Sinn Fein, which was pro-Remain, it wants special status for Northern Ireland. The DUP also wants to ensure Sinn Fein can no longer claim salaries, allowances and office expenses while it refuses to take its Westminster seats.
The party was originally allowed to do so by then Prime Minister Tony Blair to encourage it into the political process but for the decade it has been the joint ruling party in Northern Ireland.