The mere fact that a Tory leadership campaign is underway in Northern Ireland is enough to draw attention among Conservative party members elsewhere, looking across the Irish Sea at a local party that believes itself to be which has a few hundred.
But few are likely to envy a moment of sunshine for Northern Ireland’s Conservatives, who have long faced an uphill struggle. A Stormont candidate in 2017 garnered just 27 first-choice votes, languishing last behind a Christian activist who wanted to criminalize adultery.
For Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, however, their appearance in Belfast is fraught with risk, match watchers and pundits agree, with the possibility of dropping any number of banana skins when questioned about protocol. of Northern Ireland and the problems of the government. legacy” plans to be asked about basic historical details.
“The Conservatives in Northern Ireland are a group of well-intentioned people, including people who have wanted to chart a political course beyond orange and green, but have also been really divided and divided. There has always been a Popular Front for the Liberation of Judea aspect,” said a former Conservative adviser who worked in Northern Ireland.
“So for the candidates it will be high risk, as well as annoying in terms of having [to] dedicate resources, but it will be like Christmas for the local party, many of whom feel neglected and forgotten.”
After years of not even being able to vote for a Tory candidate (the party stood in just four Northern Ireland constituencies in the last general election), every member now has an actual vote for the next prime minister in what is an electorate that represents a tiny fraction of the UK population.
Ahead of Wednesday and Tuesday’s elections in Perth, both opportunities for candidates to present themselves as champions of a union in jeopardy, Truss described herself as a “daughter of the union”, though she drew ridicule for her conclusion to Sherlock Holmes style that Sinn Féin was trying to “drive a wedge” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Sunak, meanwhile, promised that Northern Ireland would be central to his plan to “restore confidence, rebuild our economy and unite our great nation” and vowed to fix the protocol, emphasizing what he described as his record as “an experienced international negotiator”. “. .
For Henry Hill, deputy editor of the Conservative Home, Sunak is the candidate he has most to fear from Belfast, given reports that as chancellor he had opposed the protocol bill, which would give ministers the power to scrap parts of the post-Brexit agreement between the UK and the EU.
“I think there is a danger for Sunak, depending on who ends up questioning him, of being asked a question that he has so far managed to avoid answering, which is: ‘OK, so the protocol bill becomes law. What are you doing with that? What is your plan to fix the border? He doesn’t have one.
Others are less convinced, with the former Conservative adviser suggesting Northern Ireland’s Conservatives may not necessarily be swayed by Truss’s red, white and blue bluster.
“Protocol is also something that affects business and we are talking about people who live in Northern Ireland and have businesses. They are also, compared to other unionists in Northern Ireland, people who tend to be more liberal, which could cause some to move away from the right-wing positions espoused by Truss.”
As well as fighting for a few hundred votes from Tory members in Northern Ireland, there is the added fact that Truss and Sunak will continue to play for the wider audience of 160,000 members.
Adds Hill: “Members won’t necessarily tune in, but they’ll notice what’s covered. There are also Conservative MPs, including many who have become latter-day trade unionists after originally supporting the protocol. They’re going to look for ways to underscore their own pro-union credentials and they’re going to want to hear what’s being said.”