Finding a workable alternative to the Northern Ireland Protocol has become the political Holy Grail for Unionism in 2021.
It’s all very well Unionist politicians issuing well-composed statements calling for the Protocol to be scrapped because of the constitutional dangers it poses to the Union in this Northern Ireland’s centenary year, but what exactly does Unionism replace the Protocol with that will actually work for the state’s economy?
Perhaps the solution lies in following the example of the Channel Islands when asking how Unionists can make Northern Ireland work in any perceived post Protocol society - turn the six counties into a tax haven for the globally rich!
The seriousness of the task facing Unionists has been clearly outlined by former First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson when he recently outlined two scenarios - accept the NI Protocol and make it work, or collapse Stormont heralding the return of Direct Rule.
The major problem is, that neither of those two scenarios will work politically for Unionism.
Unionists collapsed the Sunningdale Executive in 1974 and ushered in years of Westminster Direct Rule by politicians who were not voted in by the Northern Ireland electorate, along with decades of terrorism.
Political Unionism in the Seventies simply had no workable alternative to the Sunningdale power-sharing Executive and relied on Unionism’s electoral majority. In 2021, that majority at the ballot box no longer exists.
The thousands of marching feet in 1985 could not undo the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Maryfield Secretariat. So the conclusion of collapsing the current Stormont Executive is a non-starter and will leave Unionism is a much weaker position politically.
The current NI Protocol - as it stands - keeps Northern Ireland economically within the clutches of the European Union and lays the foundation for an economy based on an all-Ireland structure.
The solution - keep Stormont running and produce a workable alternative to the Protocol, which is to convert Northern Ireland into a tax haven similar to the structures which exit in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
In short, Unionism must sell the merits of Unionism as a flourishing economic ideology. If the globe’s legions of super rich millionaires and billionaires can be persuaded to invest in Northern Ireland, Unionism could live with the Protocol being reduced in influence to a meaningless piece of paper.
But such a solution will come at a price. To make this economic Northern Ireland work, Unionism must present itself as an all-embracing ideology, not the concept of ‘a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people’.
The existence of civic Unionism proves that there is a significant body of secular Protestants in Northern Ireland for whom religion is not an issue. Unionism 2021 must be about the agenda of ‘putting people first’, be they pupils, pensioners, or patients.
However, the key question remains - does Unionism have the ideological maturity to sell Northern Ireland as a workable tax haven to the global super rich?
It would be a tremendous slap in the teeth for Northern Ireland if power-sharing collapsed over an Irish Language Act or lack of attendance at North South bodies when the state could have billions of pounds invested in it as the world’s leading tax haven.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.