James Forsyth

The Tories’ Northern Ireland policy has nothing to do with electoral advantage

The Tories' Northern Ireland policy has nothing to do with electoral advantage
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If Tory policy in Northern Ireland was based around electoral advantage, as their critics have been insinuating these last few days, then they never would have attempted to get a new political force off the ground there. Rather, they would have waited for the election result and then, if necessary, made a deal with a unionist party that could offer them enough support. As the vote on 42 days showed, the DUP is not averse to deal-making. Indeed, until recently it appeared that the Tory approach would cost them if there was a hung parliament as it made the DUP far less inclined to support the Tories, their electoral rivals.

The mutterings you hear from the Northern Ireland Office is that the Tories decision to contest seats in Ulster means that they can no longer be seen as impartial. That’s true but I don’t think the British government should be neutral about Northern Ireland’s status.

When it comes to the ‘secret’ Hatfield talks, much of the criticism has been overblown. The Tories weren’t trying to broker any kind of electoral pact with the DUP, a move that would be politically foolish given the views of various DUP politicians. Yes, they were bringing together their allies in Northern Ireland, the old Ulster Unionist party, and the DUP. But that was because no deal can be done on the devolution of policing and justice without support from both unionist parties. Sean Woodward seemed to realise this in October when he tried to get the Tories to persuade the UUP to agree to the financial settlement that would accompany the devolution of policing and justice