Dr John Coulter ✒ Is a Truss-led Tory administration about to sell out Unionism once again over the Northern Ireland Protocol, or are we witnessing clever political boxing by the Conservative Right-wing to lure the European Union into a new deal on Brexit?When the staunch Tory Brexiteer and Northern Ireland Office Minister Steve Baker, a darling of the Hard Right European Research Group (ERG) within the Conservative party, issued his so-called ‘apology’ to both the EU and Southern Ireland, political alarm bells began ringing within Unionism that another ‘Tory Treason’ was about to be unleashed.
However, what we are really witnessing is the implementation of a ‘carrot and stick’ strategy to gently nudge the EU out of a political corner and firmly onto the negotiating table.
The Tory Right has now fully recognised that the EU does not politically multi-task; it can only deal with one major crisis at a time, and in this case, the number one priority is the continued occupation of Ukraine by the Russians.
This EU blinkered mentality has been further complicated with Russian boss Vladimir Putin again indulging in his nuclear weapons sabre-rattling.
When the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill successfully cleared Westminster’s Commons, the EU, like a spoilt brat, left the scene and retreated into the corner to huff.
The huffing was made more complicated when the Far Right was electorally victorious again in Italy, pushing the Protocol and ultimately the fate of the Good Friday Agreement and Irish peace process down a very dangerous path.
Minister Baker then used what had been a ‘car crash Tory conference’ to throw the EU a much-needed lifeline - the ‘apology’! In practical terms, Baker was saying to the EU - poor baby, here’s a new teddy bear; now come and play with us again!
The EU swallowed the bait and is now back at the table, hopefully for a negotiated settlement on the Protocol before the Italian Far Right-wing indulges in its own game of eurosceptic rhetoric with Brussels.
‘Sorry number two’ was aimed at Southern Ireland to avoid the Republic pulling the political rug from under the ERG before Protocol negotiations can be concluded.
That ‘apology’ was not a U-turn or compromise on future Irish Unity, but a lifeline to the Southern establishment parties - Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil - who are facing electoral humiliation at the hands of Sinn Fein in the next Dail General Election.
If opinion polls become a reality, Sinn Fein is on course to become the largest party in Leinster House after that election with enough TDs either to form a majority government or a coalition government with Independent TDs.
Indeed, it was only an historic pact between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael which kept Sinn Fein out of government at the last election.
Given that Sinn Fein remains the latest party at Stormont after May’s Assembly poll, the republican movement now finds itself electorally in the strongest position it has ever been in on the island of Ireland since the 1918 Westminster General Election.
Should Sinn Fein ever repeat that all-island achievement, a Hard Left republican government in the Dail would bankrupt the state, converting Southern Ireland into a third rate banana republic, more akin to the old communist East Germany.
Baker’s ‘apology’ was the Tory MP ‘playing a blinder’ to bolster the Republic’s establishment parties in their bid to halt the political steamroller effect created by the Provisional IRA’s political wing.
This ‘apology’ has been the best political piece of tactical manoeuvring since former Tory PM Maggie Thatcher’s stance against the IRA and INLA hunger strikers in 1980 and 1981.
With the Protocol Bill now in the House of Lords and irresponsible talk by the anti-Brexit lobby of a ‘massacre’, those peers will have to make up their minds what is more important - saving the Protocol or saving the Irish peace process. They can have one or the other, but not both.
While Baker’s ‘apology’ was the carrot to the EU, the stick remains the Protocol Bill - no matter what happens in the Lords.
Prime Minister Liz Truss must also remain firm with American President Joe Biden, who has been attempting to put pressure on the PM over the EU and the Protocol in a vain bid to deflect attention away from the fallout from his failed policy in Afghanistan earlier this year in which the United States crawled away from that nation in a manner similar to its defeat in Vietnam in the 1970s.
The DUP’s apparent starting gun for a potential winter election was fired at its recent conference. Its core message to the Northern Ireland Office is that it is not publicly worried by the prospect of a winter poll in the middle of a cost of living crisis.
Perhaps DUP strategists can use this Right-wing rhetoric to lure a sizeable chunk of the almost 66,000 TUV Assembly first preferences back to the DUP in a bid to overturn Sinn Fein’s two-seat majority over the DUP in the Assembly.
If a winter poll returned the DUP as the largest Assembly party, could leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson spin the result to allow it to form the power-sharing Executive?
Then again, no matter what the outcome of a winter poll, the key question will still remain - who controls the DUP? Is it the modernising wing around Donaldson and former UUP defectors, or is it the traditional Paisleyite wing who are adopting an increasingly integrationist stance with power based at Westminster rather than Stormont?
Minister Baker has thrown the political cat among the EU and RoI pigeons - so who will emerge victorious and who will have feathers plucked?
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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.