Almost like the long-awaited date for another Stormont General Election which keeps getting pushed along the long finger, so too, we have similar mutterings as to the final small print in the supposed deal between the European Union and the UK Government over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The DUP, like its time when it had a confidence and supply deal to prop up then Tory PM Theresa May’s Westminster regime, once again sees itself as front and centre when it comes to giving its blessing on any final arrangements. The so-called ‘Seven Tests’ must all be achieved, otherwise there will be no Stormont Assembly.
It’s a delicate issue I recently addressed on the television channel, GB News.
What we are really witnessing is a battle for the heart and soul of the Conservative party, so is it a question that the DUP is using the pro-Brexit group of Tory MPs in the European Research Group (ERG) as a lever to get its Seven Tests across the line, or is the ERG using the DUP’s Seven Tests to re-establish itself as the key body of influence within the Conservative party rather than the backbench 1922 Committee.
The bottom line is that the EU can’t get it through its political skull that the UK voted democratically to leave the European Union and is desperately holding onto to some straw that it can use Northern Ireland to have some hold over the UK.
Probably, given the leadership feuds within the Tory Party, the EU is hoping the next Westminster General Election will return a Labour Government led by Sir Keir Starmer which will formally seek to rejoin the EU.
Then again, does former PM Boris Johnson see the Protocol as the preferred political weapon of choice to push current PM Rishi Sunak out of 10 Down Street in time for a ‘BoJo Comeback’ ?
Okay, it was Johnson who devised the Protocol in the first place, but as a clever political strategist, did he implement the Protocol as a Trojan horse to wreck any EU deal from the inside?
So here are the key questions which still need to be resolved in the coming days:
What are the current obstacles in finalising the protocol?
- Securing a deal which satisfies both the DUP’s so-called ‘Seven Tests’ which the DUP says it needs to kick-start devolution at Stormont;
- Securing a deal which prevents a rebellion by the ERG in the Conservative party and puts PM Sunak’s premiership in doubt;
- Securing a deal which the business community in both mainland Britain and Northern Ireland helps them cope with the cost of living crisis.
Does the finalising of the protocol suggest the return of functioning politics in Stormont?
- Any final deal has to meet the ‘Seven Tests’ of the DUP before the party agrees to nominate a Speaker of the Assembly which will kick-start devolution again.
- Can DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson sell the deal to the Christian fundamentalist wing of his party, especially his Westminster contingent;
- Would the DUP be prepared to compromise on any issue to save Stormont, or must the deal effectively get rid of the Protocol because the DUP is looking over its shoulder at local council elections in Northern Ireland in May - would the DUP lose support and seats to the more hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party if it accepted the deal and entered Stormont.
Given the history of these negotiations post Brexit, how big of an issue is trust between Westminster and Stormont?
- This issue is vital. As the DUP is not part of the UK negotiating team, it will be presented with a deal rather than create the deal itself; in this respect, there is a fear among Unionists in general that this deal could be more about securing the future of the Sunak premiership than securing devolution.
- If the DUP did not accept the deal, could the entire peace process crumble in this the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998.
- The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Tory MP Chris Heaton-Harris, has already introduced legislation to extend the deadline for calling an Assembly election in Northern Ireland until January 2024; if there’s no deal acceptable to the DUP, could he also get legislation passed at Westminster which would also those political parties in Northern Ireland who want to make devolution work form a power-sharing Executive without the DUP. This would be a nuclear option.
- If the deal is rejected by the DUP and devolution collapses, how sure can Unionists be that any Direct Rule from Westminster will not have a Dublin government input like the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.
Ultimately, does the DUP have a Plan B up its political sleeve if the nuclear option becomes a reality that the deal does not get the blessing of the party’s Christian fundamentalist wing and devolution goes into mothballs for at least a generation.
Ironically, could we then see a Molyneaux solution? The former UUP leader was a committed integrationist who believed power should ultimately rest with Westminster.
His vision was that Northern Ireland should be governed by an NIO staffed by MPs elected from Northern Ireland rather than by MPs flown in from mainland constituencies depending on the party of government.
However, this was all based on the assumption in the 1980s that the UUP would always be the lead party in Unionism. Given the May 2022 Assembly elections, this is clearly not the case.
With no Stormont Assembly, would Sir Jeffrey be happy to take on the post of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland under this Molyneaux arrangement?
Now for the next dilemma - would such a scenario force Sinn Fein to drop its historical and outdated policy of abstentionism at Westminster, take its Commons seats and be guaranteed a ministerial position in the new-look NIO?
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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.
Firstly only England, population over 55,000,000, voted to leave the EU. Scotland voted remain, Wales was split and the six counties voted remain. Why can't you get that through your "political skull" that, as far as countries go, two voted remain, one voted leave and the other, Wales, was split.ReplyDelete
The people of the six counties want to remain. The only way that can be achieved is through joining a united Ireland, an easy remedy! Of course, the DUP, no longer even the largest party, are not really interested in democracy at all.
There are many in England who think the UK Government should tell the DUP straight. Tell them they either accept the deal negotiated or open the door for negotiations with Dublin about an Irish unification plan. How much longer can a minority party in the six counties be allowed to hold the rest of Europe and Britain to ransom?
The difficulty there is that the GFA has enshrined the partition principle of Unity only by consent of a majority in the North. Neither Dublin nor London are likely to breach that by negotiating Irish unity with each other above the heads of those in the North.Delete
Until there is a sea change in Northern opinion towards the unity question and the DUP, things will remain pretty much as they are.
I think the DUP is terrified of playing second fiddle to SF in the PSE. Fearful of a split. The Protocol is just camouflage for that
I know Anthony, I've read the boring repetative text. It is ambiguous to say the least and, in my view as I've said before, should never have been signed, at very least without clarity and amendments. It copperfastens partition then goes on to bring in the possibility of an all Ireland referendum without clearly defining what that would involve. What happens if an all Ireland referendum votes in favour of ending partition? It is unlclear, even though it states the British Secretary of State will be the final decider on such issues as a border poll, which woulld only apply to voters in the six counties. If a border poll was to be held, which is highly unlikely, and is in favour of unity then what? The DUP and like minded groups would never accept such a result. Even if they represented as few as 5% of people they would not go into a united Ireland even if everybody else wanted to. Loyalist groups have already made this clear, on TV on occassions they have let their guard down. They have no need to worry, no Brit Sec of State will grant such a poll.ReplyDelete
The GFA safeguards the unionist position and secures the deep water ports for security purposes.
Now, we hear the Brit PM, Rishi Sunak, has reached agreement with the EU. This is called the "Windsor Declaration" which the DUP I predict will veto, again. They will argue that some EU law and ECJ will apply to "Northern Ireland" but not elsewhere in the UK.
Sorry, "Windsor Framework" not "Declaration", my mistake.ReplyDelete