From the moment the exit poll was announced at 10pm on Thursday, and it was apparent that Theresa May was about to lose her Commons majority, the potential role for the Democratic Unionist Party took centre stage.
During the night, the DUP began trending on Twitter and such was the interest in the potential alliance, the party’s website crashed.
The grand irony is that while the DUP supported the decision to leave the European Union, in a perverse attempt to re-energise the UK, the fate of Northern Ireland played little or no role in the debate ahead of the Brexit referendum.
Now, Arlene Foster’s band of merry men and women and their 10 seats will be enough to see May returned to Downing St but the cost, from an Irish context, will be high.
The DUP’s “price” for supporting a Tory government will include a promise there will be no separate post-Brexit status for Northern Ireland, the party’s leader in Westminster has confirmed.
Nigel Dodds, re-elected as MP for Belfast North, said among the DUP’s conditions would be an insistence there would be no deal to keep the region with one foot still in the EU.
The DUP fears that separate status after Brexit — a key demand of Sinn Féin — would decouple Northern Ireland from the UK.
With one eye on the Brexit negotiations that begin in the next 10 days, Dodds said: “There are special circumstances in Northern Ireland and we will try to make sure these are recognised. As regards demands for special status within the European Union, no. Because that would create tariffs and barriers between Northern Ireland and our single biggest market which is the rest of the United Kingdom.
Jonathan Powell, former adviser to Tony Blair and a key negotiator in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, said such a partnership would be a disaster for Northern Ireland.
“I would appeal to the government not to go down this path. Since 1991, when a Tory minister said that Britain would be neutral in Northern Ireland — not take the side of unionists or take the side of the nationalists. If we now find ourselves taking sides, how on earth will we mediate between the two sides. We have a political crisis there, do we want to make this crisis worse,” he said.
“Even John Major at his weakest did not go into an alliance with the DUP because he did not want to be dependent on the DUP.
“We have kept Northern Ireland off the pages of the newspapers since we signed the agreement, and do we really want to put it back there,” he said.
Mr Powell also warned that the DUP’s pro-Brexit stance is at odds with all other parties in the North and that could be damaging.
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