Unionist reaction to the Protocol is all too predictable

Posted By: February 11, 2021


Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, February 10, 2021.


Some might say the past fortnight has been very revealing about the sturm und drang in Unionism as the inevitable results of the hard Brexit, which the DUP insisted on, take effect.


Those people would be wrong. What the past fortnight reveals is that when they can’t rule the roost or get their own way, Unionists demonstrate poverty of imagination and lack of vision.


Unionist reaction (isn’t it always reaction?) led by Arlene Foster has been same old same old. Shout betrayal, betrayal by the British, circle the wagons against the Irish government, walk off the pitch, boycott, but never, ever propose anything.


Howling to be “free of the protocol” as Foster does is just plain stupid. Look, as a result of the Brextremist policy her party espoused, namely leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market, there has to be a border. The EU and the USA will not accept a British border in Ireland so it has to be in the Irish Sea. End of. The DUP voted against Theresa May’s alternative which was to keep the whole UK closely aligned with the customs union. Yes Arlene, you did it.


As Nick Cohen wrote in the Observer: “The DUP’s stupidity is truly bottomless because no Irish republican war forced them to embrace Brexit and partition the union.” They did it themselves and now are trying to avoid living with the consequences of their own actions. It’s not as if they didn’t know. They were warned repeatedly in 2018 and 2019 exactly what would happen but dismissed and ridiculed all expert opinion preferring of all people [Boris]Johnson. Did Arlene Foster think she was the only woman Boris Johnson didn’t lie to?


Now, panicked by last week’s opinion poll and what passes for her ‘policy’ visibly driven by yahoos with paint brushes and spray cans, she has opted for the traditional Unionist strategy of riding the tiger. In her case, that means chasing the votes of those who boosted the TUV’s support in the opinion poll. So obvious and shameless is this forlorn pursuit of Jim Allister’s plan published in a local paper, essentially a critique of her own previous position, she has adopted it hook, line and sinker: boycotting north-south bodies, refusing to operate any of the protocol’s procedures and so on. It’s the road to nowhere.


Meanwhile Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovic have endorsed the protocol and meet this week to devise ways to operate it better. Why? It’s part of an international treaty, the Withdrawal Agreement (WA), that’s why. Does anyone seriously believe the EU and UK are going to reopen the WA after four years of hell concocting it just because Arlene Foster hasn’t the political brains to stand up to the jeremiads of a one man band in a regional assembly?


It’s all so predictable. Look back over the past sixty years. Each time a so-called Unionist leader tried to make a deal with the rest of the people in The North, never mind the rest of the island, one gulder [ignorant roar] from the backwoodsmen brought them up short: O’Neill, Faulkner, Trimble. Now Foster is terrified that if last week’s opinion poll’s findings are repeated in next year’s assembly elections the DUP will be faced with an existential choice. Do they accept Michelle O’Neill as first minister or collapse the Assembly?


In the meantime,  there’s the fear of a ‘chicken run’ as they call it in English politics. Will some of her own members look at the leap in support for the TUV and decide their own seats are at risk? Will they decide to cut and run either because Foster won’t be able to break ‘free from the protocol’ or because they agree with Allister, and join the TUV howling at the moon?


Finally, in all this mess where are the Irish and British governments? Barely speaking to each other because of, guess what, Brexit.