Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party is holding out in opposition to the Brexit deal struck Thursday between London and Brussels — a stance which has the potential to sink the agreement.
The DUP, which supports Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, holds major sway in whether a divorce agreement can get through parliament.
In the desperate scramble for votes, DUP backing would have smoothed the path for hardline Conservatives to get behind Thursday’s Brexit package.
Northern Ireland has proved the sticking point in the Brexit negotiations, so satisfying the DUP, the province’s biggest party, has proved a key test on the road to an acceptable deal.
The DUP is a hardline group whose tough negotiating tactics were forged in the sectarian conflict over British rule in Northern Ireland that left thousands dead over three decades.
The party is known for its fiery rhetoric and steely determination in holding out, rather than its willingness to compromise.
“No” has been its classic watchword.
Hours before London and Brussels announced they had found an agreement, the DUP said it could not support what was on the table — notably on customs and consent issues, as well as sales tax arrangements.
The party said it wants a deal that “protects the economic and constitutional integrity” of the United Kingdom.
Following the news from Brussels, a DUP source told AFP that the earlier statement “remains our position”.
The hard-bargaining party has only 10 MPs in the 650-seat British parliament in London.
However, those votes could prove vital to the prime minister if he is to get any deal through the lower House of Commons.
The DUP propped up the Conservative government after the 2017 general election, giving it a slim majority in the lower house.
The alliance agreement with the government came at a price of £1 billion ($1.3 billion, 1.15 billion euros) in extra funding for Northern Ireland.
Since Johnson expelled rebel Conservatives in early September, the government is now well short of a majority — even with DUP votes.
Deeply socially and economically conservative, the DUP is firmly rooted in Northern Ireland’s Protestant, pro-British community.
It has softened its fiery anti-Catholicism since it was founded by the Protestant evangelical minister Ian Paisley in 1971.
The party has been led for nearly four years by Arlene Foster, 49, who survived a school bus bombing as a teenager.
The no-nonsense figure was Northern Ireland’s first minister throughout 2016 before the province’s power-sharing institutions collapsed in early 2017 over a lack of trust.
The DUP campaigned for Brexit but the four other major parties in Northern Ireland were all against it.
The DUP is the only Northern Irish party in the British parliament. Members of the Irish republican party Sinn Fein do not take their seven seats and there is one independent unionist.
On the lowest UK regional turnout of 63 percent in the 2016 EU membership referendum, 56 percent in Northern Ireland backed the UK staying in the European Union.