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The 10 people who can make or break Brexit

Posted June 9

When Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street Friday morning to confirm that she will try to lead a minority government, it was significant that she referred to "the Conservative and Unionist party" -- the historic name of the party she leads.

May said she intends to work with what she called her "friends and allies" in Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party to provide "stability."

The reality is that this will be far from easy.

As the results of this extraordinary election were declared, the DUP's Deputy Leader, Nigel Dodds, declared it was "turning into a great night" for his party and for the union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The party increased the number of seats it has in parliament from eight to 10.

More importantly, the DUP now holds the balance of power in government, the difference between May's Conservatives being able to govern, or not.

As things stand, it looks as if the two parties will work together under an informal arrangement rather than an official coalition, with the DUP supporting the Conservatives on key votes, such as the budget.

DUP opposes same-sex marriage

But even amongst Conservative ranks, there will be some concern about the power and influence the small Northern Irish party could now yield. In the past the DUP has opposed same-sex marriage and blocked any extension of abortion rights.

Although the DUP backed Brexit, its leader Arlene Foster has spoken against a "hard Brexit" and against a hard border with the Republic of Ireland where people and goods would be subject to checkpoints.

Related: Brexit talks face delay after UK election shock

Before polling day, Foster said "what we want to see is a workable plan to leave the European Union, and that's what the national vote was about -- therefore we need to get on with that. However, we need to do it in a way that respects the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland, and, of course, our shared history and geography with the Republic of Ireland."

New challenges in Northern Ireland

Other possible DUP demands that can be gleaned from their election manifesto include guarantees of increases in pensions and cuts in taxes on tourism and flights.

The party also wrote to the Prime Minister last year, seeking assurances of funds from the UK government to replace European Union subsidies after Britain leaves the 28-nation trade block. All these demands could be on the table in the future.

Related: Record number of women elected to British Parliament

It's also worth noting that the UK election comes as the Northern Ireland Assembly -- the semi-autonomous regional government -- itself hangs in suspension following a breakdown of agreement between the biggest parties last January. Talks to end that crisis are due to begin on Monday.

The DUP's Republican rivals in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein, increased its number of seats from four to seven. However, because they want a united Ireland and don't believe in rule from Westminster, Sinn Fein don't physically take up its seats. Ironically, by virtue of the fact they increased their numbers, Sinn Fein has lowered the amount of seats required for a working majority.

The DUP and the Conservatives have been close political friends for a long time, but the reality of a civil partnership, and not a marriage between the two parties means May will now find herself beholden to a group of ten lawmakers in Northern Ireland, as she attempts to lead the country and commence Brexit negotiations without a parliamentary majority.

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