Eleven points

As so much of what is currently happening to shape the new UK government is in flux, I thought I would make a list of the points I see as important.

1. The Tories will not call another election anytime soon

This is because they'd lose it. Their previous pitch was that Corbyn was unelectable, he clearly isn't. Labour have the momentum. They'll comfortably win any election held in the next couple of years.

2. The DUP don't want another election either

They will do everything they can to make the Tory/PUP agreement last as long as possible. All their wishes have come true. Every day is Christmas for them from now until the next election.

3. Theresa May will not lead the Tories into another election

She simply isn't cut out for elections, and every Tory now knows it.

4. But the Tories won't get rid of her yet

The very earliest she would go is at the party conference this autumn. But I doubt she will go that quickly for two reasons: First, the electorate won't tolerate a second unelected leader. Whoever becomes leader will have to face a general election within a year or so. Second, the Brexit negotiations are going to be a humiliation for the UK, so no ambitious Tory is going to want to be leader until the negotiations are over. The next Tory leader will let May take all the humiliation, then emerge as a fresh new face who has learnt from her mistakes.

5. Labour want an early election

They will do everything possible to destabilize the Tory/DUP agreement ... but that will just make them more determined to hold on. Labour will only get in by attrition, if the number of by-elections in the next few years is higher than usual.

6. The UK will end up with a soft Brexit

The UK will be part of the EU single market and customs union, and the will continue to pay a fair price for it. Maintaining an even playing field costs money. However the payments will be disguised in all sorts of ways to save Tory blushes.

7. Immigration will not be a big issue

It never was. Having "control" of immigration sounds fine, but was never going to equate to having less immigration. Despite promising they would, the Tories didn't do anything to curb immigration from outside the EU even though it alone accounted for more than the limit the Tories said they were aiming for. They realize that the UK economy relies on immigration. For example, it's cheaper to hire a doctor who has been trained at someone else's expense in another country than to train a doctor here.

The Tory media will not make an issue out of immigration, because criticizing the government for conceding on the principle of free movement to the point of destabilizing it will only bring about an election that will bring Labour into power ... something they're much more afraid of than immigration. Hardline Tory MPs will not make an issue of it for the same reason ... they cannot afford to cause trouble because their seats will be at stake. And any criticism from UKIP will be ineffective because this election killed them off as a political force.

8. The Tories are still a right wing party

Irrespective of what happens in negotiations with the EU, domestic economic policy is decided by each member state individually. A Tory government propped up by the DUP might be a little gentler than a Tory majority government (triple lock pensions, winter fuel allowance, etc) but the overall thrust of their economic policy will still be to give tax cuts to the rich and restrict spending on public services. Teresa May will try to implement as many parts of her manifesto as she can, regardless of having fewer Tory MPs. In fact she'll probably be more doggedly determined to do it because she won't be around as leader to answer for the consequences at the next election.

9. Scottish independence

The SNP won the general election in Scotland handsomely, winning 34 of the 58 seats. That's a much higher percentage of seats than the Tories gained in Britain. The SNP already had a mandate for a second independence referendum following the 2016 Scottish election and the SNP/Green vote in the Scottish Parliament. So they didn't need another mandate from this election, but they got it anyway.

However EU membership is not, in itself, going to hold all that much sway in deciding the outcome of the vote for independence. What will make a difference is that Scotland is a left-leaning country in which most of the economic levers of power are held by a right wing UK government. This has always been and will always be the main reason why the Scots will eventually vote for independence. Incidentally, this is true for Wales too.

The problem the SNP have is that they must hold this referendum while pro-independence parties command a majority at Holyrood. There's no guarantee that this will still be the case after 2021. But they need a to justify a second referendum, and the EU is a far more black-and-white reason (it was specifically mentioned in the 2016 manifesto) than the differing political make-up of Holyrood and Westminster, which is no different now from what it was in 2014. It's a tricky balancing act because if, as I now expect, the UK as a whole ends up with a soft Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon will have got what she said she wanted following the EU referendum.

10. Irish reunification

The only way that a soft border could be achieved in Ireland is if the Six and Twenty-six Counties were both in the EU single market and customs union. If the Tories still held majority at Westminster, they would have ensured Britain was out of both, but would probably have made an exception for the Six Counties, because it wouldn't matter very much to voters in Britain. This would effectively have moved the economic border between the UK and EU to the Irish Sea.

     (Actually, that's not strictly true. The other alternative would have
     been for the border to be at ports and airports in the Republic, and for
     Ireland to operate the UK's border policies ... but this would effectively
     put Ireland outside the EU in economic terms and make it part of the UK,
     and there's no way the Irish would accept that. However that didn't stop
     some Tories floating the idea, and I wouldn't be surprised if
     they try it again.)

If the border had been at the Irish Sea, it would have been a huge step towards the economic integration of the Six and Twenty-six Counties, and brought formal reunification closer. But with the Tories now reliant on the DUP to stay in power in Westminster this won't happen.

Much has been made of the idea that the UK government cannot act as an "impartial intermediary" to implement the Good Friday Agreement if it depends on the support of the DUP. That's a fair comment, but the other side of the equation is that it's quite likely that Sinn Féin will be in government in the Republic some time soon - perhaps after the next Irish general election in coalition with Fianna Fáil. If that happened, then the Irish government wouldn't be an "impartial intermediary" either. In truth, the UK government has always favoured the Unionists and the only difference is that the pretence of impartiality can no longer be maintained.

As I see it, the most significant result of the agreement between the Tories and the DUP will be that the both parties will find out just how little they have in common ... which I think will come as a bigger shock to the DUP than to the Tories. Much has been made of how socially conservative the DUP are in terms of issues like abortion and equal marriage, and the DUP are painted as dinosaurs from a bygone age. While I don't support the DUP, I would say in their defence that they represent the views of a large part of the population of the Six Counties. It isn't so much that the DUP are out of step with mainstream social views—if they were, they wouldn't have won 10 out of 18 seats—it's that there's a significant gulf between Irish social attitudes and British social attitudes. To their horror, the DUP will realize that when the Tories talk of "the United Kingdom" what they mean by it is very different from what the DUP want it to be. It hardly needs to be said that religion plays a bigger part in society in the Six Counties than in Britain. Britain is a much more secular society. I think the Protestant community in the Six Counties will come to realize that they have more in common with the social and religious conservatism of the Twenty-six Counties than they do with the liberal secularism of Britain. A generation or two ago, when more people held Christian views than they do now, which version of Christianity you adhered to was important, so much so that Protestants like Ian Paisley—who founded the DUP—saw Catholics as their polar opposites. But in a Europe which has become much more secular than it was, Protestants and Catholics in Ireland are finding that they have much more in common with each other as Christians in the face of a growing secularization that threatens to make practising Christians of all denominations a minority. In short, I think Protestants in the Six Counties will gradually come to see the reunification of Ireland as a more attractive option for helping to maintain their way of life than remaining part of the UK.

Make no mistake, public opinion in Britain might have been tolerant of the socially conservative views of the DUP while it was safely kept on the other side of the Irish Sea, but it will not be tolerant of people holding those views having a direct influence over UK government policy. The Unionist community as a whole will be made to feel, both through mainstream and social media, even less part of Britain than they think they are now. It will be a rude awakening.

I'd also mention two other factors. The first is just how far the Unionist vote has fallen, as shown in this post. It is now less than 50% for the first time. The second is the ground-breaking statement from the EU that there will be no obstacle to the Six Counties becoming part of a united Ireland in the EU.

If anything, I am more confident of a united Ireland happening in the next decade than an independent Scotland. The event that will trigger it is the death of Elizabeth Windsor.

11. Wales

We in Wales will be bystanders in most of this. However I think we will gain a few crumbs from the deal to form a new UK government. Apart from the DUP's constitutional red lines, they will of course extract a hefty amount of extra "pork" for the Six Counties. But it will be difficult to give one devolved (even if suspended) administration more money without the other devolved administrations getting more too. The Six Counties have greater public spending per head, and getting significantly more again would have to be justified on the principle of need. So we might finally see the Barnett Formula (even with a floor) replaced by a needs-based formula. This would benefit Wales, as our needs are greater than the UK average too.

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