Election results 2017: The Democratic Unionist Party

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Charles McQuillan

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The DUP had a good night in Northern Ireland, securing two more MPs

The Democratic Unionists look set to be the powerbrokers in an election that intended to bring stability but has ended in a hung Parliament.

There is mounting speculation that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Conservatives will come to some form of understanding to allow Theresa May to form a government.

Despite party leader Arlene Foster warning it would be difficult for the prime minister to stay in No 10, discussions are certainly going on behind the scenes.

The focus for the pro-Brexit DUP, which returned 10 MPs to Westminster, will be the border.

After Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland becomes an EU frontier and the DUP is not in favour of a so-called hard border. This means no checkpoints or intrusive enforcement.

So no hard border but in the round, the party’s vision of Brexit is a fairly hard one – it was the most Eurosceptic party in the UK before the ascent of UKIP.

The party wants to leave the EU customs union – their manifesto says there should be “progress on new free trade deals with the rest of the world”.

Like the Conservatives, they want a new customs arrangement with the EU without specifying what it should be.

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A new frontier? The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

One red line is the idea of Northern Ireland being granted some sort of “special status” when Brexit comes to pass – the DUP will not stand for any arrangement that physically sets the region apart from anywhere else in the UK.

Away from Brexit, the party opposes same-sex marriage and is anti-abortion. Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, except in specific medical cases.

In its 2017 manifesto, the DUP called for the “triple lock” on pensions to be retained, for VAT to be cut for tourism businesses, and for the personal tax allowance to be increased.

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Theresa May literally bumped into Arlene Foster at an agricultural show while the PM was on the campaign trail in Northern Ireland

What part would the DUP play in a Tory minority government?

After a tumultuous night for the Conservatives, Prime Minister Theresa May has lost her majority in the House of Commons, and the mandate she was expecting from the British people.

But with more seats than any other party, she has the first opportunity to form a government, but she needs to have an overall majority of 326 MPs to get legislation past the House of Commons.

The DUP plays a key role in this as their increased Northern Ireland majority of 10 seats could get Mrs May’s Queen’s Speech through parliament.

Ahead of the election, Northern Ireland’s largest party made clear its preference was for a Conservative rather than Labour government.

The DUP’s most senior MPs, including its Westminster leader Nigel Dodds, have been consistently critical of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, particularly for his past links with Sinn Féin and his stance on security issues.

Hardline unionism

The DUP has evolved from being a party of protest into a party of power.

For decades it was led by its founder Rev Ian Paisley, a man who embodied hardline unionism.

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The Democratic Unionist Party moved from a hard-line fringe unionist party in the 1970s, led by Ian Paisley, to Northern Ireland’s biggest party

During the Northern Ireland peace process, the party withdrew from talks as a protest against Sinn Féin and the republican movement being involved in the peace process.

But over the years relations thawed and the DUP became a party of government.

In 2007, Mr Paisley became first minister in Stormont – Northern Ireland’s seat of government – with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness acting as deputy first minister.

Mr Paisley got on so well with the former IRA commander that they were nicknamed the “chuckle brothers”.

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Ian Paisley became unlikely friends with former IRA commander and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness

The party remained electorally dominant under its next leader Peter Robinson, but relations between nationalists and unionists in the country’s fragile power-sharing executive began to cool.

After Mr Robinson lost his Westminster seat in the 2015 general election, Mrs Foster took over as party leader in December 2015, and first minister in 2016.

But her leadership has been sullied by controversy over the Renewable Heat Incentive Deal, which saw the power-sharing executive collapse in 2017, causing a snap election in Stormont.

After Sinn Féin made significant gains in that election, the DUP based its Westminster campaign around a call to defend the union – saying unionists had to turn out to rebut republican demands for a referendum on Irish unity.

Northern Ireland is still without a government itself and the DUP will now find itself sitting at two negotiating tables when talks to restore power-sharing resume.

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