Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is doing her best impression of dumb and dumber when it comes to her party’s position on Brexit and issues like abortion.
On Brexit, Foster told Sky News, “For us, our only red line is that we are not treated any differently from the rest of the United Kingdom...”
As she holds the 10 seats in the House of Commons with her DUP which keeps the Tories in power, that is no idle threat.
Tory leaders, desperate to put the Irish border issue behind them, had come up with a piece of obfuscation, allowing a soft border in effect though not calling it that.
They are over a barrel in Europe, with EU leaders demanding they solve the Irish border issue first before their withdrawal can be negotiated.
No one was especially happy with that obfuscation move, but the ever-watchful Arlene smelt betrayal.
Northern Ireland would have to be treated exactly like the rest of the United Kingdom she explained, or no deal.
Now here comes the dumber part of the law according to Arlene.
On the issue of abortion, very much in the news, Arlene will have nothing to do with the British abortion law which has operated in the rest of Britain since 1967. Instead she insists on the primacy of the 1861 law that criminalizes women. There have actually been arrests of women caught with the abortion pill.
Nothing will change says Foster. Ireland’s recent abortion referendum result will have “no impact” on Northern Ireland’s restrictive regime, and it is a job for the Northern Irish Assembly, if it ever comes back, to deal with, she adds.
How convenient. In other words, when the subject changes from Brexit to abortion she feels totally entitled to have her own position separate and distinct from the rest of Britain.
Northern Ireland is certainly treated differently on Brexit. If Foster allowed it to be voted on in the North’s Assembly – again, if it ever returns -- there would be a majority in favor of no border north and south as exists today.
Indeed, the original Brexit poll showed 57 percent in North against Brexit, an impressive majority in a deeply divided society.
Given those numbers and the obvious advantages, especially to the heavily unionist agricultural sector in remaining in the EU, one would think Foster would be seeking an accommodation on border issues that kept her own constituency happy as well as nationalists.
That is definitely not the case.
On the issue of gay rights too, the North has a far different and more hardline law on gay issues, including no access to same-sex marriage. The mindset was well displayed in the late Ian Paisley’s unforgettable phrase “Save Ulster from Sodomy.”
Perhaps that could be rewritten to state “Save Ulster from Arlene.”
Again, Foster sees no contradiction in stating on the one hand the North must be in lockstep with British law, but can exist outside such laws when it suits them.
Arlene wants to have her cake and eat it too. In her world, there can be one law that upholds U.K. law and another that operates only in the North.
It is an untenable position and one that is sure to bedevil Brexit and gay rights and access to abortion for a very long time. Or as long as Foster is allowed to play the Orange Card at Westminster.