On 4 December 2017 Theresa May just had her 30 September 1938 Neville Chamberlain moment. Instead of having a piece of meaningless paper to flap about, her version of the Munich Agreement that was supposed to be a settlement permitting Nazi Germany’s annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia, but pretending some other random chosen item was the actual agreement. In her case she nearly had a piece of meaningful paper, but it was snatched away from her by a group of 10 MPs who are more likely than not to bring about chaos and violence.
History is said to go in cycles, in that sense it is almost describing one ending and another beginning. In this case, the United Kingdom will be the loser, its history and importance in the world sacrificed and people forced to suffer without a war. Reading the international press the morning after that fateful day, I got the impression the UK had just gone from a bit of a joke to a rip roaring comedy feature. Well done, I thought, Theresa May you have just won your place in history as a total loser whose lack of courage destroyed her country.
How a tiny minority undermined the large majority
It was one of the fastest moving and changing days in recent history. There were moments of suspense, optimism, demands and a sense that a victory of some sense over irrationality was close. Wrong! The Democratic Unionist Party decided that what was close to agreed was not what they wanted. In the 2017 general election, the DUP won 10 seats, just three seats ahead of Sinn Féin, but with no outright majority they entered into an agreement to support the Tory government. They are not formally part of government in any sense. Arlene Foster became leader in 2015, then served as First Minister of Northern Ireland from January 2016 until January 2017. She is implicated in a number of political irregularities, beginning with two days before the referendum in June 2016, the DUP paid £282,000 for four pages of a high gloss wrap around cover advocating a ‘Leave’ vote on Metro, the free newspaper distributed in major urban centres on the British mainland, but not Northern Ireland. This was followed through in October 2016 when Foster hosted a champagne reception at the Tory party conference at which she announced an ‘informal coalition’ or ‘understanding’ between the two parties to bolster the chances of the Tory government’s narrow majority in the general election of 2015. This was repeated in 2017 at the Tory conference and attended by the then First Secretary of State Damian Green, Brexit Secretary David Davis, their then Chief Whip Gavin Williamson and Tory party chairman Patrick McLoughlin. In return, Green attended the DUP conference with the new Chief Whip Julian Smith, who made a keynote speech. Foster was always the force behind these pro-Brexit actions.
Corruption, bigotry and archaic beliefs undermine reason
Yet her position is not as it should be, there being good reason as to why she should hold no political office whatsoever. As Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland in 2012, she oversaw setting up a green energy scheme that led to the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, often known as ‘Cash for Ash’. The scheme encouraged using more rather than less energy and increased the carbon footprint of those who signed up to it who could claim £1.60 for every one pound spent on heating using wood pellets and other costly fuels. There were no cost controls thus pushing the cost to the public purse up to around £490 million. She refused to resign or stand down during an inquiry into her role in the Cash for Ash scheme. In January 2017 Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin resigned, thus the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed. Sinn Féin refused to re-nominate a deputy First Minister, therefore an election had to be called. In March 2017 the DUP lost 10 seats, leaving them with a single seat and only a 1,200 votes majority. Still she refused to stand down. On 4 December she was the person May spoke to and whose words broke down a potential agreement that would have been beneficial to all sides.
A graffiti mural on the recent ‘cash for ash’ scandal
The DUP is a by-product of a 16-century doctrine based on that of the Scots theologian John Knox and linked to the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, a small protestant church in the tradition of Knox’s Presbyterian Church of Scotland, founded by Ian Paisley who also founded the DUP in 1971, and consequently then led it for 37 years. It is deeply evangelical and out of synchronicity with the 21 century. For instance, they oppose LGBT rights in Northern Ireland, with party leaders and prominent party members condemning homosexuality. A survey a few years ago found that two-thirds of party members believed homosexuality is wrong, thus they campaigned against legalisation of homosexual acts in Northern Ireland through the Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign until 1982. They used their veto to block same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland since 2015, making it the only part of the UK where it is not legalised. They are ‘pro-life’ with members campaigning strongly against the extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland, therefore unanimously opposed a bill proposed by Labour MP Diana Johnson that would protect women in England and Wales against criminal prosecution if they terminated pregnancy using pills bought online, and also opposed extra funding being given to international family planning programmes. A number of elected representatives have called for creationism to be taught in schools, museums to be made to include creationism in exhibits which a decade ago a spokesman confirmed was in line with party policy and still is generally in 2017. Some members are also supporters of the return of the death penalty for certain crimes. They are ideologically on a step short of flat earth ideology. With Foster’s dubious record they are still considered worthy of destroying what may have been the best solution to Northern Ireland. May, already a discreditable prime minister, lacked the courage to forge ahead to complete a deal that should have gone to the UK parliament for a vote, to be humiliated by a minority party that would rather see the UK kept as it was in now almost elsewhere forgotten history.
Flies around the rotting government
Of course, the DUP was not the only fly in May’s ointment. Carwyn Howell Jones, the First Minister of Wales, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, and Sadiq Khan, Mayor London, all demanded similar terms to those on the table for Northern Ireland. Scotland had asked for similar terms early after Article 50 had been evoked, however that was turned down flat by Westminster. Both Scotland and London, like Northern Ireland, had sizeable majorities for remaining in the EU, their reasoning was right, although in the case of London practicalities almost impossible to ever imagine. Furthermore, an amendment in the EU Withdrawal Bill to give the devolved assemblies and parliament a say in the negotiations and final deal was voted down very early in the process of approving and rejecting the amendments. Thus, conflict was already potentially ready to surface. Had May stood firm and not been blatantly controlled by the DUP, resisted the demands of her hard line Brexiters and reached at least the opening door of the paper that would have gone forward to the summit of 14 and 15 December, then it is highly likely the Republic of Ireland would have quietly agreed. Now Leo Varadkar will clearly walk into the summit with the veto card in his hand, ready to throw it on the table.
As a politician, let alone a prime minister, Theresa May is now totally discredited. She will now be a symbol of powerlessness within her own party and government, a worldwide laughing stock, and put in the same gallery of failures as Chamberlain. The damage she has done since her accession to the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will take its place in history as part of the end of empire, the final stage of the death of the UK as its component parts take their leave and England, like all other centres of great empires throughout history, will become a backwater with only that history to its discredit.