It’s only taken some 40 years, but at long last Unionism is uniting using its brains and not the boots.
Unionism is united in recognising the danger to Northern Ireland from the Protocol, which is effectively the European Union’s method of punishing the United Kingdom for daring to leave the EU.
In practice, the Protocol keeps Northern Ireland under the EU thumb and serves as a warning to the remaining almost 30 members of the EU which would have a significant euro-skeptic political factions in their nations.
The Protocol is really a double-edged political sword - a caning for the UK for leaving the EU by focusing on a region of the UK which voted ‘remain’ in the 2016 referendum, and a shot across the bows of other EU members thinking of also holding referendums to quit the EU. The blunt message from Brussels is - remember what happened to wee Northern Ireland !
Initially, Unionism has learned from the mistakes of 1985 when Thatcher and FitzGerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement giving Southern Ireland its first real say in the running of Northern Ireland since before partition.
Based on Dublin and London’s experience of 1974 when Unionism’s marching feet collapsed the then power-sharing Sunningdale Executive during the Ulster Workers’ Council strike and loyalist terrorism’s no-warning bomb blitz in Dublin and Monaghan, Unionism thought it could easily overturn the Hillsborough Accord with its Ulster Says No street campaign.
That flopped miserably as the Maryfield Secretariat near Belfast worked very effectively, manned by Dublin’s civil servants, while Unionists tramped the wet and cold streets, towns and cities of Northern Ireland as the Ulster Says No drifted into the Still Says No campaign.
Apart from some now on the fringes of militant loyalism, the pro-Union community has realised that the boot is no substitute for the brain when it comes to dealing with Dublin, Westminster and Brussels.
While there is a strong chance the legal eagles within the pro-Union community could practically wrong-foot those who insist the Protocol be implemented, has Unionism an effective plan if this legal Plan A flops?
In short, has Unionism analysed what the Achilles heel is in the whole Protocol system? Hopefully, should the legal challenge either fail or be ignored or side-stepped by pro-Protocol implementers, Unionism will not resort to the boot and take to the streets again as in 1985. Unionism now needs to box clever, and be at least half a dozen political moves ahead of Leinster House, Westminster and the EU.
If there is one nation the EU and the London Government both distrusts and fears, it’s Russia. Okay, to mention that seems like the 1966 American comedy film, ‘The Russians Are Coming’.
For years, the Right-wing pro-Conservative pressure group, the National Monday Club, used to warn that Ireland could become the UK’s Cuba.
Part of the Club’s warnings about the dangers of a united Ireland was that it could open up a situation whereby NATO could be compromised if the Russians set up a power base in the ‘new Ireland’, sparking a crisis which former American President JKF faced during the so-called Cuban missile crisis before his assassination.
Unionism needs to prepare itself that if the legal challenge to have the Protocol axed fails, it will be further proof that Westminster, Dublin and Brussels have become the new Pan Nationalist Front to throw Northern Ireland’s pro-Union community ‘under the bus’, politically.
In this case, there will be much speculation that Unionism should prepare itself for the prospect of an economic united Ireland in a post Brexit and post Covid society. Then the advice from the English Government in London would be - just make the best of it!
Plan B in this case is for the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland to form an official Ulster Russia Friendship Society with a view to establishing formal trade and political links with Moscow. Such a move by the pro-Union community leaders in Northern Ireland would send shock waves through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London, let alone MI6 headquarters and 10 Downing Street.
Okay, given the massive street protests which Russian boss Vladimir Putin is facing at the moment, the Russian government may not have the best public relations image in global politics, but any links with Russia are bound to put the ‘frighteners’ up London.
Unionism’s problem is the considerable majority which British Prime Minister Boris Johnston enjoys in the House of Commons. He is not in the same political cul-de-sac as his predecessor Theresa May found herself in by relying on DUP MPs’ support to survive. Put bluntly, DUP MPs are now ‘surplus to requirement’ politically.
Could the implementation of the Protocol also be the Boris Johnston-led Government’s way of punishing the DUP for the way it behaved when Mrs May held the keys of 10 Downing Street?
And in an era whereby the DUP and Sinn Fein are being accused of staging political stunts in the war of words and blame game over border checks, the Ulster Russia Friendship Society will have to deliver for Northern Ireland. It cannot be dismissed as political sabre rattling or window dressing merely to scare London.
Northern Ireland once had a tremendous reputation for ship building and aircraft manufacturing. Surely Ulster has enough talent that if Putin wanted his nuclear submarines and ships repaired or new ones built, he could get a deal in Belfast?
Could the runways at Belfast International Airport or even Belfast City George Best Airport not be extended or improved to the level that Russian bombers could land for refit and refuelling?
Could our schools, colleges and universities not organise educational exchange programmes for Northern Ireland students to study in Moscow?
Given Putin’s career background in the Russian secret service, the old KGB, and Russia’s record on human rights, I’ve no doubt the cries of ‘Arrest Commie Coulter’ will be muttered.
But the reality of the current situation must be faced sensibly by the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland. Not since partition in the 1920s has Northern Ireland faced such a constitutional crisis in the form of the Protocol.
Sunningdale and Direct Rule from Westminster fade into political insignificance when compared to the impact of the Protocol.
The movie, The Russians Are Coming’, may provoke hysterical laughter among its audiences. But something tells me, London, Dublin and Brussels will not be laughing at the prospect of Mr Putin being given a formal reception at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, when a new Northern Ireland/Russia Trade Agreement is signed, consigning the so-called Protocol to the economic dustbin.
The weakness in the Protocol is not in the actual measures which it is implementing, whether or not these can be proven to be legal or not. The essential weakness in the Protocol is that the EU does not want Russia to become a full member of the European Union. Imagine the political chaos which Russian MEPs could cause in the European Parliament!
It’s all very well allowing former Soviet bloc nations to become full members of the EU, but not Mother Russia herself!
Likewise, look at the number of Royal Navy and Merchant Navy sailors from across the Emerald Isle, and especially Northern Ireland, who served with the convoys bringing much-needed supplies to Russia in the Second World War against Hitler. A future Ulster Russia Friendship Society would honour their bravery, service and sacrifice.
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Listen to Dr John Coulter’s religious show, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, or listen online at www.thisissunshine.com