DUP gets two big Tory visitors, but even the ruling party might split

On the surface, it looks like relations between the Tories and the DUP, while imperfect and strained, are still intact.

Morning View
Morning View

The party has the triumph of having two of the most senior Conservatives at its conference this weekend. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, and the former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.

The DUP can therefore continue to claim it has major influence at Westminster, which it clearly still does. But there is no disguising the scale of what has happened in recent days. Theresa May, in her press conference the week before last, did not even pretend that the backstop was good for unionism. She admitted her unhappiness at it.

The DUP will be clinging to the hope that the Commons will reject the EU Withdrawal Agreement, which guarantees a border in the Irish Sea, perhaps in perpetuity. The party cannot support the deal, whatever sweet talking it gets or whatever assurances. Tinkering will not do.

Boris Johnson’s fierce opposition to the agreement will assure him of a warm welcome today, but even so it is hard to see a good outcome in the next few months. The divide in the Tory Party is so bitter that if someone such as Mr Johnson becomes leader, a Conservative split is likely.

MPs rejecting the deal might lead to a general election and Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. It might lead to a second EU referendum. Even so, the DUP has no option but to continue to work to defeat an internal UK border.