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Meet the DUP: staunch friends of Israel thrust into the spotlight

JC political editor Marcus Dysch profiles the Westminster power-brokers

    In one of those bizarre quirks of the British political system, the future of the government rests on 10 MPs from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

    A collection of anti-abortion, pro-Brexit, staunch Israel supporters finds itself parachuted in from the Commons’ sidings by a desperate Theresa May and propelled into a vital role.

    The party founded by the Reverend Ian Paisley at the height of the Troubles in the 1970s won fewer than 300,000 votes in last week’s election — under one per cent of those cast across the whole country.

    Yet Arlene Foster, the party leader who was personally affected more than once by IRA terrorism in the past, is now one of the most powerful figures in the country and the DUP will be rewarded by the Conservatives with billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

    The DUP’s support for Israel should not be underplayed. In Westminster, the party’s leader is Nigel Dodds, the veteran Belfast North MP. The constituency is home to much of the city’s remaining Jewish community.

    Mr Dodds regularly comes to Israel’s defence during debates and is a member of the All-Party Group on British Jews.

    In 2014, when only 12 MPs voted against the Labour motion to recognise Palestinian statehood, five of the opponents were from the DUP.

    Figures such as David Simpson, the MP for the Upper Bann constituency, who once founded a meat trading company, lined up alongside a handful of Tories and a solitary Lib Dem MP to oppose the motion promoted by allies of Jeremy Corbyn and backed by his predecessor, Ed Miliband.

    It was, arguably, the single most significant Israel-related debate in the Commons in the past decade.

    Mr Simpson is now elevated to a previously unimaginable height, but he will not forget his feelings on Israel when the next challenge in the Middle East inevitably comes along.

    For years, Catholic families in the Falls Road area of Belfast have flown Palestinian flags, as a result of the Nationalist movement’s relationship with the PLO and Fatah.

    In response, Israeli flags have fluttered along the Shankhill Road thanks to Loyalist supporters such as the DUP.

    That the DUP are the traditional opponents of Sinn Fein, and are aligned with Mrs May in her attempt to keep Mr Corbyn, a traditional supporter of the IRA, out of Number 10, only adds to the political theatre. The difference now is that the show has moved from Belfast to Westminster, and could transform how British politics plays out in the coming months and years.

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