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

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, DUP leader Arlene Foster said she would 'review' the confidence and supply agreement in place with the Conservative Party if the UK PM's Brexit deal succeeds. Video: BBC

 

“Bin the backstop,” said Nigel Dodds. “Junk the backstop,” said Boris Johnson.

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.

Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond tried his best to change minds at the DUP private dinner on Friday night, as did international trade secretary Liam Fox when he visited Newry on Friday.

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.

Considerable chutzpah

Diane Dodds displayed considerable chutzpah by quoting Seamus Heaney when anticipating the great day when the UK exits the European Union: “We must believe a further shore is reachable from here.”

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”.

Former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson with DUP leader Arlene Foster at the DUP annual conference in Belfast on Saturday. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
Former British foreign secretary Boris Johnson with DUP leader Arlene Foster at the DUP annual conference in Belfast on Saturday. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

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”.

She didn’t spare Ian Paisley jnr, who was at the conference after his recent return from suspension over taking expensive family holidays to Sri Lanka – the bill footed by the Sri Lankan government.

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”.

Displaying sackcloth

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?

BREXIT: The Facts

Read them here
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