“What did we do to members on those benches over there, to be screwed over by this protocol,” Ian Paisley asked in Parliament yesterday, “ask your hearts, what did we do?”
It’s a cliché at this point to quote Edward Carson’s “What a fool I was…” speech. It’s boring. We all know it by now. I prefer the bit after that famous line:
“And of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome it is those who will sell their friends for the purpose of conciliating their enemies, and, perhaps, still worse, the men who climb up a ladder into power of which even I may have been part of a humble rung, and then, when they have got into power, kick the ladder away without any concern for the pain, or injury, or mischief, or damage that they do to those who have helped them to gain power..”
You didn’t do anything to the Tories, Ian. You were a useful Ulsterman. That’s what happened.
It’s like watching somebody go back to the ex who treated them like crap over and over again. When are the DUP are going to realise: the Conservatives aren’t your friends. Ditch them. Dump them. Appoint a friend to stop you if you go back there again.
What’s maddening is that we all know they will go back. Paisley’s statement is probably as far as the DUP will go in terms of criticising the Tories.
Ever since the Protocol became active on the 1st January 2021, pictures of empty shelves have dominated the news. This could be a side effect of Brexit in general or covid. Either way, businesses are panicked and we’re one boat collapse away from our entire supply chain falling into the Irish sea. Who knows what the Protocol will look in a few years. The current situation is worrying.
Who’s to blame? According to the DUP we should point the finger at Alliance, the SDLP and Sinn Fein.
“It gives us no pleasure to say,” said Sammy Wilson, with obvious pleasure, “we told you so. The Alliance Party, the SDLP, Sinn Fein campaigned for the Protocol and continue to defend it.”
In Parliament, Stephen Farry, Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna all voted against the Withdrawal Agreement. In the Assembly, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance all voted to withhold consent from the legislation that implements the Protocol.
When Wilson says the three Remain parties campaigned for the Protocol, he means that they wanted Northern Ireland to be treated differently to the rest of the UK. He’s right, but he can’t draw a straight line between that position and where we are now.
Asking for NI to be treated differently to Britain did put a sea border into play. It’s also fair to say that the consequences of a sea border weren’t really acknowledged when the matter was raised during the debate about the backstop.
But let’s be serious: the only reason why the three Remain parties went for a backstop is because they were told the alternative was a hard border. That was put on the table when Theresa May decided to pull the UK out of the customs union and the single market. The DUP backed that. They also backed every unrealistic solution offered to manage a hard border between Northern Ireland the Republic. When May proposed a deal that took a sea border off the table, the Remain parties backed it and the DUP didn’t. The party hedged its bets to the ERG and here we are.
If you look at the pathway to the Protocol, agreed by Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar, the DUP played a significant role. They didn’t get what they wanted, arguably they were misused, but their actions were key. Not Alliance, not the SDLP or Sinn Fein.
You might think I enjoyed listening to Paisley yesterday. I really didn’t. Northern Ireland has always been ignored by politicians in Britain and people have suffered. This is just another manifestation of that attitude.
Let’s be clear though, the DUP can’t blame the Remain parties and absolve themselves. Why aren’t they directing their ire at the people who brought about the Protocol in the first place? Even the EU is more to blame than political parties in Northern Ireland.
Lick your finger and hold it to the air. The Assembly elections are on the way. Somebody is going to face consequences at the ballot box. The blame game will continue.
Fine. Grand. Go for it. We’re all pointing fingers and I know who I blame. But, please, we can’t do this forever.
It’s not just the DUP that needs to dump the Tories. Political unionism needs to reject them in every way. Dump them, not just because they’re responsible for austerity, poverty, Windrush and every other cruelty inflicted upon this country for the past ten years, but because they’re not worth the energy and the political capital. I’m that girl holding her mate back in the club because her ex has arrived at the bar….except it’s me and political unionism. Ditch them. Do it now.
The house is on fire. The man who lit the match is sitting in Downing Street. We’re arguing with each other while the roof collapses. We’re all going to burn if we don’t get our act together.
Sarah is a writer and lawyer from Belfast.