Anti-Science Reactionaries Now Hold Unexpected Sway After UK Election

Shocking election result forces Tories to partner with climate-denying North Ireland party

DUP leader Arlene Foster (left) next to UK Prime Minister Theresa May — AFP/Getty Images
Jun 09, 2017 at 5:48 PM ET

Thursday’s election results in the United Kingdom defied political orthodoxy, as Jeremy Corbyn’s unabashedly leftwing Labour Party denied the ruling Conservative Party and Prime Minister Theresa May a majority in parliament. The unexpected deadlock has handed unprecedented importance to Northern Ireland’s far-right Democratic Unionist Party and its anti-science viewpoints.

The DUP doesn’t have official stances denying climate change or evolution, but important members have publicly held both positions.

The party previous appointed climate denier Sammy Wilson as its environment minister in the Northern Ireland government. Now a member of parliament, Wilson recently praised President Donald Trump for withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

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As Wilson wrote on his website, “pulling out of the agreement which was only a piece of window dressing for climate chancers who wished to pretend that they were doing something about an issue which they can’t affect anyhow is not the disaster which the green lefties are getting hysterical about.”

Thanks to DUP stonewalling, Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. that hasn’t passed legislation to cut carbon emissions. By contrast, the Conservative Party fully accepts climate science and spearheaded several important pieces of green legislation during the tenure of May’s predecessor, David Cameron.

Many key DUP politicians, including the head of its education committee, are members of a creationist group that believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. A 2013 survey found 40 percent of party activists want creationism taught in schools.

The DUP holds leverage right now because the election resulted in a hung parliament. If no one party has a majority, two can form a coalition and share power — as the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats did in 2010 — or the largest party can reach a more precarious arrangement where another party will support the government’s basic existence but vote on all the issues on a case-by-case basis. May is headed toward the latter with the Democratic Unionists, whose 10 members give her a razor-thin majority in the House of Commons. The whole thing could fall apart at any moment for pretty much any reason, which means the Conservatives have incentive to keep the DUP happy.

It’s relatively unlikely the DUP will end up holding substantial sway for long, given the inherent instability of the planned arrangement and the fact it may violate the peace agreement that ended the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland. But the hung parliament has shone a spotlight onto one of the United Kingdom’s most socially regressive parties — it also has consistently fought abortion rights in Northern Ireland, forcing women to travel elsewhere if they need to get one, and vetoed marriage equality in Northern Ireland since 2015.

Even if the DUP doesn’t get to affect the rest of the U.K., its policies have already been shaping health and environmental issues in Northern Ireland for years.