Jamie Bryson is editor of UnionistVoice.com and head of law and public policy research within Unionist Voice Policy Studies.
The DUP, TUV and PUP each stood on some shared constitutional manifesto commitments, which can be summarised as the following two key issues;
(i) that in the absence of the removal of the Protocol (which is to be measured as the restoration of the Act of Union) there is no basis for power sharing;
(ii) that legislation was required to ensure the principle of consent should protect the substance rather than merely the symbolism of the Union.
Put simply, you can not change everything but the last thing in relation to the Union, the last thing being merely the final formal handover of sovereignty.
It was the most ideologically hardline manifesto from the DUP and PUP in over two decades. In regards the DUP, no one could have been in any doubt as to the mandate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was seeking: it was to stand firm on the ground that there would be no unionist consent for the Executive until the Protocol was removed.
Indeed, the main plank of attack against Sir Jeffrey and the DUP from other parties- and elements of the media- was focused on the DUP stance of not forming an Executive, and their presence at anti-Protocol rallies along with myself, Jim Allister QC, Baroness Hoey, the PUP and Ben Habib.
Conversely, the UUP stood on a much different platform. They said they would never collapse the Executive or North South bodies, regardless of the Protocol. The UUP made clear that whatever happened with the Protocol, there was no circumstance whereby they would refuse to implement it via the Executive, and indeed they proposed as one solution additional North-South bodies to implement a reformed Protocol.
It can not reasonably be argued that anyone who went to the ballot box was confused about what they were voting for. And in regards unionism, every unionist voter had a clear choice as to which direction of travel to endorse. The more hardline position of the DUP/TUV/PUP and Alex Easton, or the softer approach of the UUP.
In total 265,023 people voted for the DUP/TUV/PUP and Alex Easton (an independent unionist who shared the same constitutional commitments). Around 182,000 of those votes went to the DUP, with Sir Jeffrey personally topping the poll in his constituency with over 12,000 votes.
A quarter of a million unionists voted for the hardest line manifesto commitments in decades. The DUP lost 41,000 votes, and the TUV gained 45,000 votes. Those who abandoned the DUP did not go to the UUP, or to Alliance because they wanted a softer option, they went to the even more hardline TUV.
Indeed, the huge swing to the TUV would have been far more had the DUP not eventually taken the action they did in bringing down the Executive.
Therefore it is clear that the unionist community- with eyes wide open- has given Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP a very clear mandate, and this mandate is in turn based on the very clear commitment given by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP that there would be no Executive until the Protocol is removed. And for the avoidance of doubt, promises, tinkering or half-fixes will not suffice.
The DUP have set seven key tests, and those are the tests for re-entering the Executive. Their electorate will hold them to those tests.
The DUP have given their word to the unionist community, and as such people like me and many others have backed them (and the TUV/PUP) on that basis.
And yet there are those- such as SDLP, Alliance, Sinn Fein, the Irish Government, the Secretary of State and US administration- that now urge Sir Jeffrey to break his word to our community, to betray the mandate he has been given.
In short, the unionist mandate is not one of which the other parties approve, so this mandate should be ignored by unionist political leaders. Is this really where we are, whereby over a quarter of a million unionist voters should be disenfranchised because nationalists and others say so?
We have also heard nationalists and Alliance talking about there being a majority for the Protocol and formation of an Executive. This is staggering. These are the same people who used to hold up the Belfast Agreement and principles of power sharing as a holy writ.
The key plank- we were told- was that Northern Ireland had to be based on cross community consent, rather than majority rule. And yet now, when it seems unionism can be ganged up on, all of a sudden majority rule is the way forward?
Political and societal stability in Northern Ireland can only be achieved by a fair and balanced agreement and governance arrangements. That means respecting the unionist mandate, every bit as much as unionism is expected to respect the nationalist mandate.
Unionism can not be treated as an underclass or our political voice ignored. There has been a growing feeling that the entire Belfast Agreement process operates from the ethos that unionism must give, and nationalism must get. That is a clue as to why a quarter of a million unionists voted for the constitutionally strongest manifestos adopted by any unionist party in decades.
Indeed, given many of the commitments are essentially key objectives of those of us who are anti-Agreement, it may well be the largest ever post 1998 vote for what in practical terms is a form of anti-Agreement unionism.
Those who want to see consensus politics should reflect on that and consider why the unionist community is moving into such territory.
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