Since British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party suffered a shocking loss of seats in the UK’s House of Commons during last Thursday’s election, ceding their overall majority, international attention has turned to the party’s future. May will likely hold on to a Tory government, however precariously, by aligning with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Much of the international coverage of the DUP has focused on the party’s perceived religiosity and how the DUP might move the Conservatives further to the right on social issues. A Change.org petition against the expected agreement — which has as of today garnered almost 725,000 signatures — highlights the party’s track record on abortion and LGBTQ rights, as well as its less formal association with creationist educational policy.
The Evening Standard raised the possibility that DUP influence might lead to abortion restrictions within mainland UK; the Telegraph’s “Seven Things You Didn’t Know About the DUP” focused almost exclusively on the party’s religiously motivated, right-wing social policy, including the party’s position on the death penalty and climate change. British commentator Matthew D’Ancona even characterized the DUP as a “group of homophobes, zealots and creationists” in the New York Times.
All of these issues are, of course, legitimate concerns for the Conservative Party going forward. But reducing the significance of the DUP to a “right-wing religious party,” or comparing it to the American religious right, elides the complexity of religion and identity in Northern Ireland. Doing so overlooks how the DUP’s presence in government, especially with Northern Ireland’s resistance to Brexit, could prove even more catastrophic, threatening a delicate — and only recently won — peace in the region.