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What does the Democratic Unionist Party think about immigration?


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Picking through various manifestos and public statements of the Democratic Unionist Party and its leading members reveals a few clues about the stance of the party on immigration issues. This may prove critical in the lifetime of the coming Government — whether that be days, weeks or months — because it is only with the support of the DUP that any new immigration legislation can be passed and the support of the DUP may be crucial if challenges are brought to immigration rules and regulations laid before Parliament.

Before going further, though, bear in mind that immigration law is not a devolved issue so it is not something that parties focussing on devolved administration have to confront. The DUP has MPs at Westminster as well as in the Northern Ireland Assembly, though, and does have some opinions about immigration.

For those, like me, not hugely familiar with the DUP the obvious place to start is the DUP’s 2017 General Election manifesto, called Standing Strong For Northern Ireland. This includes the following bullet point “policies” touching on immigration issues (I’ve grouped them together here):

Effective immigration policy which meets the skills, labour and security needs of the UK

Rights of British citizens in the EU and those from EU member states living here safeguarded

Effective, time bound transitional arrangements where necessary

Higher and further education continuing to attract international expertise and collaboration

Jurisdiction of European Court of Justice ended and greater control over our laws restored

This is all rather anodyne. No-one tends to admit they want an “ineffective” immigration policy which does not meet the needs of the country, after all.

Slightly ominously, the manifesto then links the “migration crisis” in Europe to terrorist threats, although to be fair the suggestion seems to be that the international situation has caused both.

This tendency to conflate security and migration matches with an article by DUP MP Nigel Dodds in The Guardian back in 2015 setting out three priorities for the DUP in the event of a hung parliament following that election. One of only three declared priorities was:

Finally, our borders need protecting too. EU membership can be asymmetric. As the woes of the euro demonstrate, in monetary policy the EU recognises the reality of radically different approaches by member states. This diversity should include a formal, treaty-based recognition that countries like the UK that wish to should be able to better protect their borders. Free movement of labour does not have to entail free access to benefits paid for by other countries’ taxpayers. We would expect any government we’re called upon to sustain in the Commons to promptly and comprehensively tackle UK border integrity. And the urgency in this matter stems not least from our need to keep ourselves safe from terrorism sourced and inspired from abroad.

The DUP’s 2017 Assembly manifesto, called Our Plan for Northern Ireland, is almost silent on immigration — it is a power reserved to Westminster in any event — but does discuss the EU. It would be fair to say the DUP doesn’t much like the EU:

The Democratic Unionist Party was always a Euro-sceptic party. We opposed the United Kingdom joining the European Economic Community but respected the national referendum result in 1975. In the intervening years, we consistently highlighted the encroachment of the European Union into our national life, contrary to the promises made when we joined.

The DUP was all in favour of Brexit, and one of the reasons for this is the opportunity “to control immigration”. This is normally a euphemism for reducing immigration.

However, the DUP is very keen to have “a seamless, frictionless border and maintenance of the common travel area” with the Republic of Ireland, so the DUP does want a deal with the EU on that issue and would therefore seem to be opposed to a “no deal” scenario. The default position in the event of “no deal” is that the border would be closed.

If we go back to the DUP’s 2015 General Election manifesto, prosaically entitled DUP Westminster Manifesto 2015, there is a short section specifically on immigration:

The UK needs to build a national consensus on the issue of immigration. This must reflect the value of immigrants to the UK and also their impact on indigenous communities. By limiting the number and nature of those who can come from abroad we can help reduce tensions which have damaged community relations in recent times. As part of this consensus there should be:

  • Stronger border controls.
  • A recognition of the contribution of immigrants.
  • Support for local communities to help integrate those from abroad.
  • A requirement that people must contribute to our country before they can access benefits and services.
  • A joined up immigration and Integration service.

The central takeaway seems to be the aim of reducing immigration, although there is also an admirable emphasis on integration. This impression is very much confirmed by the section “From Westminster, we want…”

  • To ensure economic migrants must have contributed to the UK before they are entitled to claim benefits;
  • Proper border controls and a tougher immigration policy;

If we go back to Tough But Fair, a 2015 document setting out the DUP approach to law and order, we find that the DUP believes

that foreign nationals who commit crimes in this country should be tried and sentenced here and then immediately deported home to serve their sentences.

To this end, the DUP supports “reform” of the Human Rights Act

to remove the ‘right to family life’ defence against deportation upon conviction for a serious criminal offence.

There endeth our quest. It sounds to me as if Theresa May and the DUP share a great deal of common ground on the issue of immigration. It is therefore safe to conclude the Democractic Unionist Party doesn’t like immigration and will support attempts by the new Government to reduce it.


Some additional information via Luke Butterly suggesting the DUP has been much better on refugee issues than Theresa May’s Home Office:

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Colin Yeo

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.