No surrender on DUP’s adamant opposition to withdrawal agreement
DUP conference: Most notable moment was Arlene Foster’s abject apology over cash for ash
That in a nutshell was what the DUP’s annual conference was about in relation to Brexit. Arlene Foster and her senior MPs may have been assailed by business and farmer leaders for more than a week, but not an inch was conceded; there was no surrender on the DUP’s adamant opposition to the withdrawal agreement.
But no ground was conceded, and there never was going to be. Instead, it was left to former cabinet minister Boris Johnson to excite the delegates with his talk of that “throbbing, enigmatic, humming thing”.
And to avoid any confusion over this phallic metaphor, this was in fact a reference to (Star Wars character) Obi Wan Kenobi’s light sabre, first made in Johnson’s Uxbridge constituency, as he told us.
And its relevance? Well, it was pointing to the greatness of the United Kingdom as it prepares to leave the EU and its “most dynamic creative culture and media industries”.
He was a good warm-up act for Foster. The delegates enjoyed it as he shifted metaphor by warning the withdrawal agreement would make the UK a “satellite” state, as opposed to a “vassal” state – the favoured description of last week.
It was the same message from Nigel Dodds and from MEP Diane Dodds, who with Brexit wants to do herself out of a job as soon as possible.
Now there’s a quote that will infuriate the Remain arts lobby.
Arlene Foster, in a conciliatory nod to the South of the Border, said the DUP did not “want barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and our neighbours in the Republic”.
On the other hand, Nigel Dodds, in an apparent reference to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, complained about “those in other jurisdictions trying to play up their republican credentials in advance of a forthcoming general election”.
What was most arresting was the abject nature of Foster’s apology over the calamitous Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. As leader of the party she personally apologised and said “as a party we are deeply, deeply sorry”.
In an implicit reference to the North Antrim MP and perhaps others, she said over the past 12 months “there have been a number of other areas where behaviour in our ranks has not matched the standards expected of people holding public office”.
Those were the main themes of her speech, opposing the Brexit deal and displaying sackcloth and ashes over cash and ash.
A lesser theme was that of restoring Stormont. Perhaps too much shouldn’t be read into it, but there was a possible hint of how the DUP might seek to get politics back working – when and if this whole Brexit mess is half sorted.
It was interesting that on Thursday, Peter Robinson effectively advised unionists not to get hung up on an Irish language Act – the main issue that wrecked the prospects of reinstating the Northern Executive and Assembly early this year.
Foster did not follow his lead but she did say that a “Cultural Deal” was needed “for everyone in Northern Ireland that respects difference and fosters understanding”.
“It is in unionism’s interests for those from all backgrounds to feel comfortable in a Northern Ireland at peace with itself,” she added.
Maybe there is something there to work on?