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Fintan O’Toole: The DUP has entangled its destiny with the English Shinners

The little Englanders the DUP has aligned with have no desire to subsidise the North

DUP leader Arlene Foster has warned its “red line” that there could be no Brexit deal that would divide Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom was “blood red”. Audio: BBC Radio 4 Today

Hello, Mrs Mouth, may I introduce you to Mr Money? When we cut to the chase, Arlene Foster’s bluster comes down to a brutal and basic question: will the Little Englanders put their money where the DUP’s mouth is? And there is a brutal and basic answer: not bloody likely.

We are, finally, at the point when Arlene Foster’s “blood red line” must be crossed if a Brexit deal is to be done. The DUP has gambled the union on the belief that the Brexiteers are above all unionists and will never concede to any post-Brexit arrangements that differentiate between Northern Ireland and Britain. In this they are deluded to the point of insanity.

To understand why, forget the mouthy platitudes and just listen to Mr Money. What Mr Money is saying very clearly to the DUP is: sayonara, baby.

The 'unravelling of the peace process in Northern Ireland' is a 'price worth paying' for Brexit

Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom has a price. It costs English taxpayers roughly £10 billion (€11.38 billion) a year. An average of £14,020 (€15,955) per head was spent on public services in Northern Ireland in 2016, compared, for example, with £10,580 (€11,446) in the southeast of England. This (rather than the DUP's flagship Renewable Heat Incentive) is what keeps the home fires of Ulster burning.


It is also what makes a United Ireland currently impossible: the taxpayers of Ballydehob are not going to subsidise better public services in Ballymena than they get themselves. Northern Ireland’s place in the union depends entirely on the willingness of English taxpayers to pony up.

And, after Brexit, to pony up even more: it is they who must, for example, replace the 60 per cent of farm incomes in the North that comes in subsidies from Brussels.

Leavers say no

So, if we strip away all rhetorical decor, this is what the union means: the voter in Gloucestershire loves the union enough to share her money with Arlene and Michelle. And here is the really big news: if she’s a Brexiteer, she damn well doesn’t. In the latest Future of England survey, there is a buried landmine.

It has received some attention for the breathtaking revelation that fully 83 per cent of Leave voters and 73 per cent of Conservative voters agree that “the unravelling of the peace process in Northern Ireland” is a “price worth paying” for Brexit that allows them to “take back control”.

The DUP is aggressively biting the only hands still willing to feed it: screw you and your money!

But there is actually an even more explosive finding, less immediately lurid but of far greater consequence for the DUP. The proposition put to these English voters is this: “Revenue raised from taxpayers in England should also be distributed to Northern Ireland to help Northern Irish public services.” Just 25 per cent of Leave voters, and 29 per cent of people who said they voted Conservative in 2017, agree.

What is even more striking is that antipathy to sharing English tax revenues actually rises if Northern Ireland is explicitly included in the question. In the abstract, 38 per cent of Leave voters agree that revenue raised from taxpayers in England should be spread across the whole of the UK. That falls to 25 per cent when Northern Ireland is explicitly mentioned.

Tories and Brexiteers in England are literally not buying the union any more. On the only real test that matters – the willingness to share their money with their kith and kin in Ulster – three-quarters of English Leave voters have their hands firmly in their pockets. The message could not be clearer: Kith? My arse!

Arlene Foster's choice of accessories are seen as she holds a news conference at the European Parliament after a meeting with the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on October 9th, 2018 Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

English shinners

And here’s the true idiocy of the DUP’s alliance with the Brexit ultras: the only people in England who are still willing to subsidise Northern Ireland are Remainers. The DUP has taken sides with the enemies of the union against its friends. While just 25 per cent of Leave voters are okay with it, 52 per cent of Remain voters in England agree that their taxes should pay for Northern Ireland’s public services.

On every similar question, it is Remainers who still believe in UK solidarity and British identity – the Leavers have tilted decisively towards an English version of Ourselves Alone. The DUP may not be able to stay in bed with Sinn Féin in Belfast, but it has entangled its destiny with that of the English Shinners.

While any unionist with a stim of wit would understand that Northern Ireland’s future in the union depends on the Remainers, the DUP is aggressively biting the only hands still willing to feed it: screw you and your money!

The DUP’s delusion is that it can emotionally blackmail the English by screaming “hit me now with the precious union in my arms!” It thinks it can mobilise the self-pitying drama of Rudyard Kipling’s Ulster 1912, in which England is shamed into standing or falling with the fate of Ulster Unionists:

“We are the sacrifice.” To which the mass of Brexit supporters in England will say: “Right you are then. Ta-rah!”