Whatever the shortcomings of the Good Friday Agreement, one of the main reasons Labour under Blair was able to secure that agreement was because it was not, unlike the Major government that preceded it, beholden to unionist MPs for support.
May’s deal with the DUP effectively steamrollers that whole edifice: the British government can no longer adopt a convincing pretence of impartiality, let alone act impartially (there is no such thing) with regard to politics in Northern Ireland.
This deal -whether the DUP forms part of the government or not- has taken place months after assembly elections in which unionist parties, for the first time, failed to secure a majority of seats. What’s more, a majority of people in Northern Ireland did not vote for Brexit last year, whereas the DUP did support it, with the lure of Saudi money.
The wholesale contempt for the North was crystal-clear in an election campaign in which Jeremy Corbyn was pursued relentlessly for his supposed IRA links, and for being supposedly equivocal in condemning ‘all’ bombings.
In all this, the entire history of British state support for loyalist paramilitary violence and murder was almost completely ignored; implicitly, Britain gets to kill whomever it wants. Explicitly, Theresa May declares she wants to get rid of human rights legislation that ties this Britain’s hands.
People in Britain, educating themselves on who the DUP are now that they have come into national view, are right to point out the history of DUP associations with loyalist paramilitaries. They are right to point to the endorsement the party received from the combined loyalist groupings in advance of the elections just past.
But they should also be wise to the effects that May elevating the DUP will have on loyalism. Loyalist paramilitaries will take all this as a sign that they were right all along: that their campaigns of terror -including the murder of 836 civilians from 1969 to 1994- were fighting the good fight, in defence of the same Britain that Theresa May claims to defend.
It is to this Britain -militarist, jingoist, anti-democratic, vindictive- that May -or whoever succeeds her-, that the Tories and the DUP will appeal in the months ahead (as well as homophobic, creationist and thoroughly corrupt, the DUP are also deeply Islamophobic). They have nowhere else to go, and their appeal ought to be viewed as their conscious and considered response to the democratic revival that Labour’s surge represents.