Politics 2 October 2018 | 7:25

The DUP and a Boris premiership: ‘They’re cool with it.’

02 October 2018 07:25

‘The Greeks? They’re cool with it.’ This, as devotees of The Wire will recall, is the moment when drug kingpin ‘Proposition’ Joe is told by young pretender Marlo Stanfield that his suppliers have defected. It is, as Joe instantly grasps, a death sentence.

Though Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster would not welcome the comparison, and the Prime Minister makes an implausible ‘Prop’ Joe, her remarks to the Telegraph about Boris Johnson signal a pretty explicit readiness to switch allegiance from the incumbent to her mop-haired challenger.

What the DUP supplies to the Conservative leader is not, of course, the narcotics furnished to the Baltimore gangs by ‘the Greeks’, but the ten Commons votes that enable the Tory party – which lost its majority in last year’s election – to govern. The ‘confidence and supply’ agreement announced on 26 June 2017, in return for £1 billion of taxpayers’ money is all that stands between the Conservatives and parliamentary oblivion. Whoever succeeds May needs that pact to endure – at least until the next election.

Very pointedly, Foster has now reminded the Tories at their conference that the deal is ‘party to party’ rather than personal – which is to say, its survival is not dependent upon May remaining party leader and PM. No less pointedly – when asked about Johnson – Foster said: ‘I think people want that hope, they want to be positive.’ Thus, the DUP leader has unambiguously aligned herself with his insistence that securing a decent Brexit deal is all a matter of optimism and will – rather than technical detail and jurisprudential complexity.

This is a very significant intervention, especially in context. What Foster is telling Conservative members gathered in Birmingham is that, if Johnson makes his move, the DUP will be ‘cool with it.’

At lunchtime, the former Foreign Secretary will make a speech on the conference fringe that his supporters are billing as a clear bid for the leadership. Well, we’ll see: many senior Tories having been doing their best to ensure that his campaign is nixed before it is launched. But he could not have hoped for a better start to the day.