James Brokenshire’s endless deadlines have died away with talks still not providing any outlook from the continuous gloom. Karen Bradley’s posting into the Northern Ireland Office is providing yet another deadline to add to the list of those by Brokenshire.
These regular extensions have only been helped by Theresa May’s minority government only sliding on with the rally of DUP MPs, their power of 10 giving the so called billion pound bung and the debacle at the EU talks before Christmas.
However, can Stormont really be refired with the Tory’s necessitous reliance on the DUP? There has never been a situation during recent Northern Ireland political crises where the DUP have held so much influence in Downing Street. As displayed in Brussels last month, Theresa May cannot make any substantial movements with Arlene Foster being very close behind. Why would the DUP really want a returned executive with bolstered Sinn Féin ensuring that the petition of concern can no longer be definitely used by the DUP alone? The status quo of Northern Ireland suits Arlene Foster perfectly: no Irish language act and no gay marriage.
The DUP’s biggest key of influence at the minute is through clinging onto Theresa May’s kitten heels – far removed from a DUP weighed under the woes of nationalist pressure and the RHI scandal.
Similarly, Karen Bradley insists she is an honest broker to the talks process. The role of the DUP in Downing Street makes this very questionable. Any moves which re-open Stormont will require both sides to water down their red lines. Karen Bradley, with the DUP distantly dragging onto her, cannot be seen as a honest broker. She may be neutral in a Stormont setting, but as soon as she returns to Westminster, it’s clear that the DUP will be pulling their punches behind the scenes.
Theresa May’s struggles in Northern Ireland are emblematic of her lack of ambition – a point articulated by Tory backbencher Nick Boles last week, who told May to lose her “timidity” and raise her game. On the Northern Ireland question, if Theresa May inches a muscle, her already fragile relationship with DUP could be called into question – a relationship vital to her survival.
So, we wait for the outcome of the next political talks, but I certainly won’t be holding my breath for any real result.
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