A petition against British Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal with the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party garnered nearly 600,000 signatures today as concern grew over her plan to govern with their support. “This is a disgusting, desperate attempt to stay in power,” read the petition, which outlined some of the DUP’s more controversial views including opposition to gay marriage and abortion. The petition echoed some of the slogans at a leftist demonstration by a few hundred people outside Downing Street today who chanted: “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, the DUP has go to go”. Some Conservative MPs also spoke out on Saturday as officials announced that Northern Ireland’s DUP had signed up to “an outline agreement” to back a minority Conservative government. May needs the support of the DUP’s 10 MPs to be able to govern after losing her parliamentary majority in Thursday’s general election.The details of the agreement are not yet known but Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said it “simply won’t work” if it includes any change to abortion laws or “dilution” of gay rights. Wollaston also said she was opposed to the death penalty and creationism being taught in schools, policies that have been supported by some DUP politicians.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who is gay, said she had received “assurances” from May that there would be no change to gay rights for the rest of Britain. Gay marriage is banned in Northern Ireland, as is abortion except for when the life of the mother is in danger. The DUP was founded in 1971 by firebrand Protestant evangelical preacher Ian Paisley to defend Northern Ireland’s union with Britain against demands for a united Ireland. Early in his political career, the colourful cleric became a byword for bigotry and intolerance of Catholics. The party is now more secular and attracts a wider demographic than when it was founded, shifting from fundamentalist outsiders to political pragmatists. But some of its politicians have been criticised for homophobic comments and, although it has a female leader in Arlene Foster, it remains an overwhelmingly male, white bastion.