There’s no such thing as a free lunch and Theresa May is finding that out, right now, after one of her biggest mistakes as UK prime minister. Her deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland has not only hampered one of the most important parts of the Brexit talks to date, but it is also a sign of things to come over the remaining 16 months Britain has until it leaves the European Union.
When the Conservative party launched a snap general election this year, it had intended to increase its majority—the more seats it has, the more easily it is able to push through decisions because it would have more of its lawmakers voting on its side. However, on June 9, the ruling Conservative party lost its majority by only winning 318 seats—a party needs 326 seats to reach a majority.
In order to command a government, you need to push the seats over the 326 level, so May struck a deal—which she is probably regretting right now.
After the Conservative party formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, from 2010 to 2015, the latter vowed to never form a partnership with the Tories again. The impact on the Lib Dems in the 2015 general election virtually wiped them out. Considering the Labour party is the main opposition to the Tories, and is now led by hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies hark back to 1970s socialism, the Conservatives were stuck on who it needed to band with to get back in power.
So, at the last minute, May decided to seal a deal with 10 politicians from the DUP—of which most people outside Northern Ireland had never heard, despite it being the largest party in Northern Ireland. Now, those 10 people hold considerable power over the Conservatives and can make or break any talk—just by saying they aren’t happy.
Signs of things to come
The UK leaves the EU on March 29, 2019. It has to overcome the first round of Brexit talks—the divorce bill, EU citizens’ rights in the UK, the Ireland border—in order to move forward with even more complex subjects like trade and immigration. May was poised to announce an agreement struck between the UK and the EU about the Irish border, but at the last minute the deal was torpedoed by the DUP leader. At the scheduled press conference held yesterday (Dec. 4), May had to say there was no deal.
It’s a sign that not only are May and her party knee-capped in decision-making, but also that the very lawmakers she had hoped would back the Conservative party on its Brexit quest are instead actively hampering its negotiation efforts.
May is under pressure to get an agreement on the Irish border, the divorce bill, and the status of EU citizens’ rights by Dec. 14, in order to move to the next stage. All that is certain right now is that she’s a weak prime minister at the mercy of just 10 people.