Thursday’s general election in the United Kingdom, although a total disaster for the British Prime Minister Theresa May, will undoubtedly be seen as good news by President Donald Trump.
The Conservative Party lost its majority in the House of Commons, forcing it to seek support from the socially conservative and deeply patriotic Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from Northern Ireland. The DUP quickly agreed, signing a confidence and supply agreement to prop up the Conservatives providing their demands are met. The DUP has often been accused by the left of having ties to right-wing militias such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Red Hand Commando (RHC). Although the DUP initially begin as a sectarian Protestant party, its strong stance on abortion and gay marriage has garnered support from traditionalist Catholics in recent years.
As a New York businessman, Trump maintained ties to individuals on both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland, including the IRA’s Gerry Adams. However, his relationship with the DUP formed in 2007, when Trump was exploring opportunities for golf course construction in Northern Ireland and subsequently invited then-DUP leader Ian Paisley, who was described by Trump as “the legend”, and his son, Ian Paisley Jr., to Trump Tower. Paisley Jr. and Trump quickly struck up a friendship, meeting in nine of the ten years since. After the 2016 presidential election, Paisley Jr. invited Trump to visit Northern Ireland in 2019, and Trump quickly accepted. The DUP has also pushed for Trump to make a state visit to the United Kingdom, despite heavy opposition to this from the British left. Although his father is now deceased, Paisley Jr. remains a member of the British Parliament, and so is now one of the 10 DUP MPs Prime Minister Theresa May must rely on to pass his legislation. It remains to be seen whether Trump, a cunning and unconventional negotiator, will attempt to use this relationship to America’s advantage in trade talks between the two countries.
The DUP has significant common ground with Trump on policies which may be to the benefit of the United States. The DUP agreed with Trump on the climate change hoax, criticizing the Paris agreement and calling for an end to the UK absurd tax on flight passengers, a policy that is sure to please the millions of annual American visitors to the country who will have substantially reduced flight fares. In addition, the party strongly advocates paying the NATO requirement of 2% of GDP on defense, a frequent demand by the President from NATO members. The United Kingdom already meets this requirement, but the hard-left Labour Party, which came close to winning this election, sought to slash defense spending and divert the funding to increased welfare. The DUP also shares Trump’s skepticism of the European Union, having been the main political force in Northern Ireland campaigning for Brexit.
Trump had previously aligned himself with Nigel Farage, but the relationship has since lapsed, and consequently Farage’s status as a prominent Trump ally in British politics has been diminished. Farage’s party, the UK Independence Party, was crushed during the recent general election. The leadership of governing Conservative Party, which has ties to both establishment Republicans and Democrats, has typically distanced itself from Trump. The Paisley connection may provide a new opportunity for Trump to expand his political influence across the Atlantic and deliver the best deal for the United States.