Politics

Arlene Foster ‘victim of Brexit’ as EU departure exposes ‘deep scars of conflict’

Arlene Foster announces resignation as DUP leader

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DUP members this week ousted Arlene Foster, the party’s first female leader and post-Brexit champion. Announcing her move in a statement on Wednesday, she set in motion plans to leave both her leadership role and premiership by mid-2021. Although her departure came at the behest of her fellow members, one expert has argued Brexit is as much to blame.

Dr Steve McCabe, a regional economist and Northern Ireland commentator for Birmingham City University, said post-Brexit chaos ultimately upset a national landscape dependant on delicate agreement.

He argued the UK’s departure from the EU has aggravated some “deep scars” which ultimately dislodged Ms Foster.

These scars, Dr McCabe said, could soon prompt many more real-world consequences.

He said: “The nature of relationships in Northern Ireland revolves around acceptance of compromises that emerge from painstaking negotiation.”

“Peace, achieved after the conflict known as ‘the Troubles’ was not easily achieved.

“Brexit was always going to prove to be a challenge.

“That it’s resulted in the end of Arlene Foster’s leadership is as unfortunate as, arguably, this was inevitable.

“Brexit has re-exposed the deep scars of conflict and tribal loyalty in Northern Ireland many hoped would be consigned to history through political cooperation.”

Dr McCabe added much of Ms Foster’s downfall has come from her belief in the leave side.

And this belief, shared by her fellow party members, could exacerbate relations between them and Sinn Fein.

He added: “Arlene Foster is a victim of having believed that Brexit could work to the advantage of her party and, as a consequence, against others, most notably the main opposition party Sinn Fein.

“Foster’s replacement, likely to be a male who is far more hard-line in stance and approach to Brexit and the Northern Ireland ‘Protocol’ and dealing with trade between GB and NI, is likely to make relationships with SF even more fraught.”

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And this could cause fractures within the Northern Ireland Executive, a body run by power-sharing.

With elections upcoming in 2022, pronounced divisions could leave the DUP’s competitors in pole position.

Dr McCabe said: “A collapse in the power-sharing NI Executive cannot be ruled out.

“Any election taking place is likely to create cause even more division and, potentially, result in Sinn Fein being the largest party.”

“Having a Sinn Fein member as First Minister, in an already febrile atmosphere, might be too much for many in the Unionist and Loyalist community to stomach.

“A return to direct rule from London would be disastrous for the progress of NI.”

Some of these tensions could become apparent soon, as Northern Ireland enters its marching season, members of the Orange Order parade across the country.

Dr McCabe has warned the period could see “even greater tension” than in recent weeks.

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