Robinson reveals poverty of Unionist protocol thinking

Posted By: February 14, 2021


Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Saturday, February13, 2021.

AS the maneuvering around the Northern Ireland Protocol demonstrates, Unionism possesses few strategic thinkers.

It is as much a commentary on the poverty of constructive ideas in unionist circles as it is on the contribution itself that an intervention by Peter Robinson – who retired from politics five years ago – still manages to generate some interest.

Writing yesterday in the News Letter, Mr. Robinson set out his thoughts on the protocol.

He argues that Unionists unhappy with the new Brexit arrangements face a fundamental choice: “Either suck it up in its present or minimally changed form, or resist it.”

Any changes will be “trifling”; with that option dismissed, Mr. Robinson considers the resist limb of his argument.

He writes of how governments “don’t yield unless life has become uncomfortable”, asks whether there is “the stomach for defiance” and wonders if scrapping the protocol is “more important than the continued operation of the Assembly”.

“A choice may have to be made. How would the collapse of the Executive impact on the fight against Covid?”

The idea that pulling down Stormont is even regarded as an option will appall many, especially those who are keenly aware that the protocol farrago is substantially of the DUP’s making.

Worse, Mr. Robinson notes that “lurking in the background is the potential for violence stirred up by opposition to the protocol”.

Unionist politicians can play an important role in defusing those tensions by adopting a more responsible and measured tone. An assurance that they will not pull down Stormont should also be forthcoming.

A third choice, overlooked by Mr. Robinson, exists: to make the protocol work as best as possible.

There was no solace for Unionists in the outcome of the meeting between Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and his European Commission counterpart Maros Sefcovic, who committed to “the proper implementation of the protocol” and to “spare no effort to implement solutions”.

Reflecting on the Brexit negotiations, former Chancellor Philip Hammond said that Theresa May realized “that the problems over Northern Ireland would inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom if we were not able to secure an arrangement with the European Union that allowed us, effectively, to able to access the single market”.

As Unionists rail against the protocol, they may well reflect – as those opposed to Brexit have already – on the consequences of the DUP’s repeated rejection of Mrs. May’s proposals.