With the Tory leadership elected, Northern Ireland politicians are largely split along increasingly traditional lines.
It’s the DUP and TÜV on one side against almost everyone else.
Neither union party is allowed to publicly declare its support for a candidate, but Secretary of State Liz Truss is privately favored by both because of her tough stance on protocol.
Rishi Sunak bumped into her at the cabinet table.
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There isn’t much – or in some cases any – love for the Tories in Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance, but the former Chancellor would certainly be seen as the lesser of two evils in all three parties.
They would see it as a “common sense” approach to the ongoing Brexit fallout. He did not vote for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill on second reading.
All sorts of promises could be made during the next six weeks’ election campaign, but once in office, Sunak’s focus would be overwhelmingly on the economy.
He does not want to further escalate tensions with the EU and avoid a trade war at all costs.
While Truss will continue to bang the ERG drum loudly and has invested so much to get her legislation safely through Parliament, the same cannot be said of Sunak.
He has no personal or political capital at stake. He’s a fairly unknown quantity when it comes to Northern Ireland and this place is unlikely to be high on his priority list.
He would certainly be the prime minister of choice for Dublin and Brussels. It would be easier for him to tactically back away from protocol legislation than for Truss.
As she has opposed escalating tensions with the EU, there would be goodwill for a Sunak premiership, while there will be no political dividend for the foreign minister if she gets the keys to number 10.
The ongoing Brexit discussions mean that the DUP is more familiar with Truss than the other parties. They have been impressed by what they have experienced so far.
Her political journey is seen as unpredictable – a former Liberal Democrat and Remainer who voted three times for Theresa May’s Brexit deal but is now running with the ERG. She is certainly not a persuasion politician.
While some still distrust her greatly, both within the DUP and among veteran Eurosceptics in Westminster, they believe she is cooped up enough within the Conservative Party that she must follow protocol.
While a truss triumph in the lead race might be good for the DUP in the short-term, it could potentially pose longer-term problems.
The party’s former special Stormont adviser, Tim Cairns, tweeted: “Quite a dilemma for the Northern Ireland trade unionist.
“Truss is undoubtedly the best candidate for Northern Ireland. Sunak the best candidate for Britain.”
Truss plays far more poorly than Sunak in Scotland and among non-union members in Northern Ireland, helping nationalism to make political capital in both countries.
But more importantly, she is unlikely to garner the support of those who switched to the Tories under Johnson’s leadership.
It’s very hard to see her connecting with the Rote Wand voters. She’s a much easier opponent for Keir Starmer than Sunak would be.
So a Truss-led Tory party greatly increases the chance of a Labor government, which nobody in the DUP wants.
The person favored by some in Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party to lead the Conservatives did not even run.
Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace was seen as a figure of authority, authenticity, and a strong moral compass who was firmly committed to the Union.
The Ulster Unionists’ preferred Conservative leader was fifth. Tom Tugendhat served with Doug Beattie in Afghanistan. “You couldn’t find a better man,” he said of the UUP leader.
Beattie more than returned the compliment recently. “It would be transformational for Britain if Tom Tugendhat became prime minister,” he tweeted. “His integrity, compassion and drive to do what is right would be good for the country.”
The UUP saw Tugendhat as the only candidate with a clean sheet who was not entirely unscathed by any of the scandals that plagued Boris Johnson’s government.
At this point the party appears to have no preferred candidate in the Tory contest, but few other players in Northern Ireland politics are standing on the fence in this leadership race.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/ni-politicians-not-sitting-on-the-fence-for-this-tory-leadership-race-41856815.html NI politicians are not sitting on the fence for this Tory leadership race