UK Election 2017

May’s Conservatives strike a deal with the DUP, but who are they?

Key Points
  • Theresa May's Conservatives to form a government with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
  • The DUP, led by Arlene Foster, were former in 1971 and have the greatest majority in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
  • The party are against a hard border with the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit and have an unclear stance on climate change.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) deputy Nigel Dodds (L), leader Arlene Foster (C) and Former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Leader, Peter Robinson (R)
Paul Faith | AFP | Getty Images

British Prime Minister Theresa May has struck a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which will enable her to form a government, sources have confirmed.

The Conservatives are said to have held talks with the DUP overnight as it became clear that the incumbents would be unable to maintain their stronghold following a surge in popularity for Labour.

May's party lost their slim parliamentary majority, securing a projected total of 319 seats, shy of the 326 needed for a clear win. By teaming up with the DUP, which won 10 seats, the party will be able to form a majority, though it is unclear whether the deal will be a formal coalition or a looser "confidence and supply" arrangement. The former would give the DUP a degree of control in government, while the latter would see the party support the Conservatives' policies in return for some of its policies being enacted.

May is expected to meet with the Queen at 12:30 p.m. London time to seek approval for the deal.

Who are the DUP?

The DUP is the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the fifth-largest party in the U.K.'s House of Commons.

The party, which has historically strong Protestant links, was formed in 1971 by Ian Paisley and is now run by Arlene Foster.

It has seen a gradual rise in popularity, most notably in the mid-2000s, when, under Paisley's rule, it increased its number of Parliamentary seats from five to nine.

This year the party secured a record number of seats – 10 out of 18 available in Northern Ireland. Seven seats are held by Sinn Fein and one by independent candidate Sylvia Hermon. Lawmakers from Sinn Fein traditionally do not attend Parliament.

What do they stand for?

The DUP describes its five key priorities as increasing jobs and incomes; prioritizing spending on the health service; protecting family budgets; raising education standards; and investing in infrastructure.

The party has also been clear on their stance against May's proposed "hard Brexit". Northern Ireland has a history of conflict with its land neighbour and EU member the Republic of Ireland, but the two countries now enjoy a peaceful relationship and the DUP has insisted that it will not advocate a return of a hard border once the U.K. leaves the EU.

"No-one wants to see a 'hard' Brexit, what we want to see is a workable plan to leave the European Union, and that's what the national vote was about – therefore we need to get on with that," Foster has previously said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster gives her thoughts on the general election during a television interview at the Belfast count centre on June 9, 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Charles McQuillan | Getty Images

Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU by a majority of 56 percent to 44 percent, though was overruled by the U.K. majority. It can be expected that the DUP will make maintaining strong relations with the EU a key priority in a shared government.

The party has, however, been less clear in its stance on climate change. The party has reportedly previously appointed a climate change denier as Northern Ireland's environment minister and made no reference to the environment or climate change in its campaign manifesto. It has also been vocal about its opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

Who is Arlene Foster?

Irish politician Arlene Foster has been leader of the DUP since December 2015 and served as the first minister of Northern Ireland from January 2016 to January 2017 following the resignation of Martin McGuinness.

A trained lawyer, Foster began her political career at university and later joined the Ulster Unionist Party in 2003. She moved to the DUP a year later and was elected as an MP in 2005.

May-Foster partnership

The two party leaders has had little public interaction though Foster said as recently as Thursday evening that May's catastrophic loss could mean she has to stand down from her role as prime minister.

"I think that it will be difficult for her (May) to survive, given that she was presumed at the start of the campaign – which seems an awfully long time ago now – to come back with over 100, maybe more, in terms of her majority," Foster told BBC Radio Ulster.

Prime Minister Theresa May looks on at the Magnet Leisure Centre in Maidenhead, after she held her seat
Stefan Rousseau | PA Images | Getty Images

"And now we're in the position we find ourselves in tonight, so it will be an incredibly difficult evening for her."

However, the pair will be keen to present a united front once a deal is struck. With Brexit talks set to begin in less than two weeks, and the political landscape its most divided in years, May will need all the support she can muster from her new partner.

A DUP source, cited by the Telegraph, said Friday that the party has previously worked well with May's Conservatives and would strike a deal to prevent Labour gaining power.

"We want there to be a government. We have worked well with May. The alternative is intolerable. For as long as Corbyn leads Labour, we will ensure there's a Tory PM."

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