A tiny party of hardliners holds the balance of power in Britain. Here’s what you need to know

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
June 9, 2017

After last week’s shocking results, Britain’s Conservative Party had to make a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to return to government. It appears likely that the DUP will not go into a coalition with the Conservatives, but will simply support the “minority government” from the outside on key votes, while not being part of the coalition.

Here’s what you need to know about the DUP and the likely deal they will strike.

It is Northern Ireland’s hard-line Unionist party.

The DUP, as the name suggests, is a party that supports the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and opposes nationalists and republicans who would prefer a united Ireland. In Northern Ireland’s political system, there is a very strong link between voting and religion: Most Catholics vote for nationalist or republicans; most Protestants vote for unionists. Since a peace agreement was reached a decade ago, Ulster politics have become more polarized, with Protestants tending to vote for more extreme unionists and Catholics voting for republicans, who were associated with the Irish Republican Army, instead of nationalists. This polarization benefited both the DUP, which took seats in Parliament from the less fervent Ulster Unionist Party in Thursday’s election, and the republican Sinn Fein party, which wiped out the nationalist SDLP.

It is associated with anti-Catholic evangelical Protestantism.

Originally, the DUP was closely associated with the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, which was founded by the Rev. Ian Paisley, who also led the DUP for decades. The Free Presbyterians are evangelical, fundamentalist Christians. In contrast to conservative evangelicals in the United States, who forged a tacit political alliance with conservative Catholics decades ago, the Free Presbyterians have strong anti-Catholic views. Paisley himself was involved with anti-Catholic paramilitaries in the 1960s and notoriously yelled that Pope John Paul II was the “Antichrist” when the pontiff visited the European Parliament in the 1980s. The relationship between the church and party has weakened over time: Paisley’s successor as party leader, Peter Robinson, started the movement away from domination by the Free Presbyterians, and the current DUP leader, Arlene Foster, is a member of the Episcopalian-linked Church of Ireland. Nonetheless, the party’s association with a particular brand of fundamentalist Christianity has shaped many of its political positions (including not only hostility to Catholic Irish nationalism, but to homosexuality too).

Read the full piece at The Washington Post