The UK-EU Brexit negotiations on the 4th December 2017 have ended without any clear progress reportedly in part because the Democratic Unionist party (the DUP, who are supporting the Conservative minority government) have objected to language in a draft deal which implies a special quasi-EU status for Northern Ireland.

The DUP campaigned for a leave vote during the Brexit referendum. However, during the 2017 General Election campaign the DUP manifesto made a number of statements on their position including the following points

  • Ease of trade with the Irish Republic and throughout the European Union
  • Maintenance of the Common Travel Area
  • Strengthened relationships across the four components parts of the United Kingdom with no internal borders
  • Northern Ireland-specific solutions achieved through active Executive engagement
  • Particular circumstances of Northern Ireland with a land border with the EU fully reflected:
  • Frictionless border with Irish Republic assisting those working or travelling in the other jurisdiction
  • Comprehensive free trade and customs agreement with the European Union
  • Northern Ireland established as a hub for trade from Irish Republic into the broader UK market

It's not clear to me from this whether they support the current soft border and customs union with EU, and thus want the whole of the UK to remain within the common market, want a hard customs border with freedom of movement for Irish and UK citizens, or want something a lot more a la carte. Is there a more recent statement of the party's precise position, preferably including concrete proposals?

  • 4
    The fact is that at the Referendum (which seems a very long while ago now), even the politically and economically literate classes had no idea what they were voting for, leave alone the man and woman in the street. It is clear that the DUP are beginning to understand what they were potentially throwing away when they recommended "Leave". How long will it be before the whole British polis grasps the same thing?
    – WS2
    Dec 5, 2017 at 9:19
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    The "no internal borders in the UK" demand appears to be a red line for the DUP. A potential solution would involve an open border between NI and ROI with customs checks between NI and GB, but the DUP is firmly opposed to this. Dec 5, 2017 at 9:21
  • @RoyalCanadianBandit How did the DUP (at the Referendum) imagine that the Island's economy would continue to operate post-Brexit?
    – WS2
    Dec 5, 2017 at 9:30
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    @WS2: No idea. Like other parties, they probably assumed Remain would win and planning for the aftermath wasn't necessary. :-/ But now we are where we are, and the logic of the DUP position suggests they will only accept a soft Brexit (at a minimum, remaining within the customs union). If the Conservatives want a harder Brexit (as they insist they do), they will need support from Labour MPs to get it through Parliament. Dec 5, 2017 at 9:56
  • @Royal Canadian Bandit The parliamentary arithmetic is looking ever more like that for House of Lords reform - no overall majority for any one scheme. Stalemate. Expect another election in 2018.
    – WS2
    Dec 5, 2017 at 11:39

2 Answers 2


The DUP made its position reasonably clear at a press conference on 4 December 2017:

DUP leader Arlene Foster has told a press conference her party "will not accept any regulatory divergence that will separate Northern Ireland economically or politically from the UK".

This rules out any form of special status for Northern Ireland with regard to Brexit. In particular, it disallows customs checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Conversely, the Good Friday Agreement rules out a hard border between NI and the Republic of Ireland.

The logic of this position suggests the DUP will only accept a soft Brexit -- in which, at a minimum, the UK remains within the EU customs union so that goods may pass over the NI border without checks. (The UK government has suggested a physical border may be replaced by advanced technology, but the proposed solutions have met with skepticism, and are unlikely to be acceptable to ROI and other EU governments.)

If the Conservatives want a hard Brexit (as they insist they do), they will need support or at least abstentions from the Labour party to get it through the House of Commons. (Other parties including the Liberal Democrats and SNP are staunchly opposed to Brexit in any form.)

It's worth emphasising the DUP is the Democratic Unionist Party. Its existence is founded on the idea of NI as an integral part of the UK, and opposition to any form of unification between NI and ROI. So its rejection of special status for NI is almost certainly non-negotiable.

  • But presumably even Democratic Unionists have their price, don't they?
    – WS2
    Dec 5, 2017 at 19:49
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    @WS2: Maybe, maybe not. Unionism in NI is rooted in at least 400 years of religious and patriotic fervour, and the DUP represent its hardline tendency (having eclipsed more moderate parties like the Ulster Unionists). They've already been bribed with £1 billion just to support the May government. Their red lines on Brexit may really be hard limits, not a negotiating tactic. OTOH if they trigger a new general election it will likely be won by Jeremy Corbyn, and the DUP despise Corbyn, so they may come to terms with May for that reason. Dec 6, 2017 at 8:59

The DUP's leader, Arlene Foster, made this statement 4th December 2017:

"We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom.

We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way.

Her Majesty’s Government understands the DUP position. The Prime Minister has told the House of Commons that there will be no border in the Irish Sea.

The Prime Minister has been clear that the UK is leaving the European Union as a whole and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected.

We want to see a sensible Brexit where the Common Travel Area is continued, we meet our financial obligations, have a strictly time limited implementation period and where the contribution of EU migrants to our economy is recognised in a practical manner.

The Republic of Ireland claim to be guarantors of the Belfast Agreement but they are clearly seeking to unilaterally change the Belfast Agreement without our input or consent.”

The DUP have always been the party of no (see image below). They consider Northern Ireland to be fully British, and not at all Irish.

The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has always been something of a bandit country... where fuel smugglers and IRA snipers lurked. Most people living there are Irish nationalists, and so the possibility of some sort of physical border between the two realms would be appealing to the DUP for various reasons: rule of law, security, and territorial integrity.

They and their constituents have become increasingly concerned with what they see as the creep of Irish nationalism. The 2012 flag protests, for example, were a loyalist reaction to what was perceived as a cultural war against British identity. Brexit has become riddled with identity politics, as the DUP regard the EU as being synonymous with political interference from Dublin.

If Northern Ireland stayed within an EU economic zone, it would mean that the Republic of Ireland would get a say on the laws regulating business in Northern Ireland, which for the DUP would be intolerable under any circumstances.

Northern Ireland becoming a special economic zone would benefit Northern Irish people; Catholic and Protestant, as it'd create unique opportunities. But for the DUP Brexit is not a question of economics, it is instead about Northern Ireland's existence and the threat of a united Ireland in any shape or form.

the late Ian Paisley with "Ulster says No" sign.

An image as relevant now as when it was taken. The DUP's late leader, Ian Paisley (right).

  • I don't see how the DUP's history as "party of no" is relevant here. In the context of Brexit, they are one of several participants with inflexible demands. And there is a logically consistent alternative to special economic status for NI, which is for the UK to remain de facto within the customs union. Dec 5, 2017 at 10:42
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    @RoyalCanadianBandit Contextualising the direct quotation with history helps to make sense of their position, which might be misunderstood as an economic concern. For example, many Conservatives would argue Britain can do well economically outside of the EU. But in the DUP's case this is not the point at all - it is all about the question of Northern Ireland's existence and the prospect of a united Ireland in any shape or form.
    – user8398
    Dec 5, 2017 at 11:02
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    Fair point (and I've edited my answer accordingly). I think it's worth mentioning the wider context of the DUP's "No". Dec 5, 2017 at 11:16
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    @Distic As I understand it the DUP want 1. No border with the ROI. 2. No border in the Irish sea. 3.To leave the EU. That sounds to me like wanting rain, snow and sunshine all at the same moment. However the matter will be resolved you can be sure of that - with further money from London. The Irish border will become like the coast of Cornwall in the 18th century - the preserve of smugglers.
    – WS2
    Dec 5, 2017 at 20:03
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    @Distic Today's agreement (a masterpiece in ambiguity) confirms that both the borders remain open, whilst still saying that Britain will leave the single market and the customs union. The circle will be squared with a 'comprehensive free-trade agreement', we are informed. You see, whilst staying in the SM causes Brexiteers to throw their toys out of their prams, a CFTA presumably doesn't?
    – WS2
    Dec 8, 2017 at 17:03

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