With the sidelining of both the DUP and European Research Group (ERG) of Brexiteer MPs as a result of last week’s House of Commons vote on the Stormont Brake, Unionism needs a Plan B which will both get Stormont fully functioning and make any potential amendments to the Windsor Framework.
With council elections due on 18 May, the DUP can spin the WF vote in the Commons that at least the party’s Stormont boycott stuck the boot in the Protocol.
Then again, given the ridiculous nature of the original Protocol, conspiracy theorists could rightly claim the Protocol was intended to be a political Trojan horse and those who introduced it knew it would fail, forcing the EU to come back to the negotiating table.
The bottom line may be - in terms of UK politics - the WF is a better deal than the Protocol.
Unionism may need to show a bit more maturity than it did with both the Sunningdale and Anglo-Irish agreements of 1973 and 1985 respectively. In both cases, Unionism had no workable alternative.
Perhaps Unionism needs to recognise that in negotiations, both sides never get 100 per cent of what they want and compromise will always be the order of the day. While a fully functioning Stormont will not solve all the challenges which Northern Ireland faces, its return will help to some degree to combat the cost of living crisis.
Unionism needs to fully understand that the British Government will not allow the DUP to keep Stormont on the long finger indefinitely. At some point, either the DUP must enter a power-sharing Executive, or as in 1972, Westminster will mothball Stormont and some form of Direct Rule will return.
Again, another bottom line must be recognised - there must be a political solution to the Stormont impasse otherwise a section of the hardmen in loyalism will tell political Unionism that they have had their chance, so move over and let the gunmen and bombers have a go at the Windsor Framework!
Put bluntly, the ballot box must always remain supreme in Irish politics. As a society, we can never allow a situation where the gun and bomb return to Irish politics.
So what should Unionism campaign for to unlock the current stalemate at Stormont? The obvious solution would be for the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris to pass legislation at Westminster to allow those parties and MLAs who wish to participate in the power-sharing Executive and Assembly to form a devolved government.
This would clearly involve the SDLP, Sinn Fein, Alliance and Ulster Unionists. The key question would be - how many DUP MLAs would be prepared to break ranks and join the Stormont bandwagon? Would such a working Assembly backfire on the peace process and be the very spark which would ignite loyalist terrorism?
Given the cuts and financial challenges in the PSNI budgets, would the police have sufficient manpower to control and contain loyalist violence?
Perhaps in the corridors of Westminster, the political elite are coming to the conclusion that the current Stormont project as envisaged by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has run its course; that the Assembly should be scrapped and Direct Rule imposed.
A key criticism of Direct Rule pre-devolution was that the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) was staffed by MPs who represented not just the Government of the day at Westminster, but also came from constituencies in Great Britain.
The solution would be the Molyneaux Option proposed by staunch integrationist, the late Jim Molyneaux, the former UUP leader. He believed that power should rest with the sovereign Government at Westminster and that the NIO should be staffed in terms of ministerial posts by MPs elected from Northern Ireland’s constituencies and parties.
If that were implemented at present should Stormont be mothballed after the May local government elections, the NIO would compromise DUP, SDLP and Alliance MPs. Such a scenario would place the spotlight of pressure away from the DUP and onto Sinn Fein as the party still operates its 1905 foundation principle of abstentionism from taking its House of Commons seats.
If Sinn Fein considers itself a truly democratic party, and already takes its seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Dail, Europe and local government, then why not Westminster?
There would be no way Sinn Fein could maintain abstentionism yet demand a ministerial post in the NIO.
Whatever route Westminster now decides to take, there will be a realignment within Unionism between those who are prepared to make Stormont work, and those who will never accept any agreement or framework.
Yes, the WF has its faults, but its a better deal compared to the Trojan horse Protocol. It can be worked upon from the inside through negotiation - but it requires Unionism to have the common sense and courage to take the step of triggering power-sharing at Stormont.
Forget republican spin about border polls and the need for Dublin rule if there’s no Stormont. Even the most bitter republican recognises that financially folk are better off in the Union.
As for the Republic, it cannot afford to run Northern Ireland economically, and besides, it could not cope with a 1974-style no warning bomb blitz from loyalist extremists.
As for Unionism long-term, they must become persuaders that the Irish Republic should leave the EU as the Republic will soon have to become a major ‘giver’ to EU funding. The Republic has milked the EU cash cow totally dry. Time for the Republic to ‘jump ship’ from the EU.
Don’t laugh. They all laughed in 1994 when the so-called Referendum Party was launched. Those skeptics were’t laughing in 2016 when the UK as whole voted ‘leave’. Irexit would solve the Irish Sea border in an instant.
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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.