UNIONISTS CALL FOR AN END TO THE NORTHERN IRELAND PROTOCOL
Aidan Lomas gives his thoughts on the rapidly escalating political battle over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Northern Ireland’s television and film industry does not seem to be the only drama-inspiring industry to appear on the island; it would seem that politics is once again writing the stories the BBC and Netflix would kill for.
Forget your Bloodlands, forget the Foreigner, it’s Stormont’s time in the dramatic spotlight.
Let me set the scene, it’s Belfast 2021, and all is well. Suddenly, out of nowhere, one monumental decision taken 5 years prior sends the whole scene into one of chaos with Michael Bay deploying his infamous love of large fire balls all over the political reality; it’s like Transformers except, instead of Optimus Prime, we have Senile-ius Unionist-ius. Personally, I cannot wait to see the sequel; Northern Ireland Politics 2: the Return of Tony Blair…this time it’s somewhat personal but not definitely, erm, hand of history and all that.
Whilst the idea of Tony Blair and his smile is enough to keep anyone awake throughout the night, the recent actions taking place in Stormont might just raise the bar. Last week, as February drew to a close, Northern Ireland’s acting Agriculture Minister Gordon Lyons decided to halt work on the Border Control Posts; a post-Brexit hard border in the sea. This came in the wake of the Article 16 fiasco which kick started the year, but it would seem the irrationally and radically enacted decision isn’t as mental as one would presume. It was only Monday when the ultra meme-able Sammy Wilson MP was commenting about how he supported the minister’s decision. That’s right, a DUP MP called for an end to the Northern Ireland Protocol; easily the MOST surprising thing. I think the last time I was this surprised was when they announced Christmas was in December. Regardless, Mr Wilson has once again brought his anti-EU, pro but also anti-Brexit position to the table.
Before going too far into the main story, I’d like to report that the SDLP’s own, and former Belfast Lord Mayer, Nichola Mallon MLA has triggered a three minister rule emergency meeting. This came with the support of the Alliance Party’s Naomi Long and Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy. It’s expected, however it is yet to be reported, that, whilst the Executive were discussing exactly how long to delay Northern Ireland’s exit road map on Monday morning, the First and deputy First Ministers have discussed the rash decision made by Mr Lyons. It’s likely, considering the Minister’s predecessor’s own attempts, that the decision will be reverted in the coming days. It was Northern Ireland’s own Attorney General’s Office that previously questioned the legalities of the action. Having said that, knowing the Executive’s world beating slow-nature, it’s likely the revision will take place in the coming months, maybe, not necessarily even satirically, even years.
But back to Mr Wilson MP and his views. I want to relay some information which I think perfectly sets up the theme, perhaps, of the MP’s politics. You see, just the other day, Mr Wilson accused Health Secretary Robin Swann (as yet unknown if a fan of bird watching yet nevertheless a brilliant human) of being a “poodle” to the advice of the scientific advisors over the Covid-19 pandemic and how to respond properly with regard to Northern Ireland. That’s right ladies, gentlemen and persons of Northern Ireland, Sammy Wilson is almost a Covid-19 denier! Anyway, back to the main story. Wilson’s pledged his support for Mr Lyons as his own views contradict that of his party’s leadership and Downing Street pre-2021; he despises the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP). His most recent objection comes from the reality the NIP creates an affective hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
This, I must confess, is a rather logical position to take. However, rather than present an alternative, Mr Wilson has just shat on the work made by Westminster and Brussels’ individuals during the Brexit negotiations. A possible solution, as a suggestion to Mr Wilson, might be that the UK sets up Northern Ireland as a protected region which adheres to the rules and regulations of the EU so that the border might remain open. I feel two things on this proposal of mine. The first is that it would be the right way to ensure that the peaceful prosperity of Northern Ireland continues and this lovely land continues to share its beauty and incredibility with the rest of the world without the deep red stain of violence. I also feel this proposal has already been made and accepted. But then again, what do I know? I’m just a bleeding heart Liberal to some and a rampant tory twat to others!
In an interview on Monday, March 1st, Mr Wilson said that the DUP would fight the existence of the Protocol with “every means we have.” Mr Wilson claims that the NIP will create an additional struggle for Northern Ireland’s business, large and small, following the Covid-19 pandemic as it will inhibit trade between the UK and, well, the UK. Something has to be said, meanwhile, for the change in tone of his party’s leadership. Prior to January 2021, the DUP were happy to keep the support of the Tory’s Brexit plan; turns out you can be paid a Billion-pound cheque to keep quiet. Morally questionable remarks aside, First Minister Foster’s change in direction is understandable. Whilst this Article has clearly shown its discontent with Mr Wilson, it also seeks to remind the world (if ever possible) that the EU’s actions earlier this year were undeniably foul. I use the word foul with reason. You see, something that’s foul is like a bad smell; you can’t identify its causes but you know its bad.
Whilst I can’t identify the EU’s decision to revert its policy on the Irish Border, I know it’s bad. Mrs Foster has also stated her commitment to ending the Northern Ireland protocol and quite frankly it’s the right thing for her to do. She’s the leader of the most Unionist party in Britain (making a laughing stock of Prime Minister Theresa May’s inaugural speech on that sunny London day).
Because of this, it’s understandable that she wants Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the UK to remain that which was set out in the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement 1998. What isn’t understandable, is that Mr Lyons and Mr Wilson think the right thing to do during a pandemic, which has seen unrivalled economic implications and has brought the Irish border back to the fold of European continental politics, is to make the markets unstable; you don’t puncture your own tire and blame the AA after all, do you? I mean, what would I know!
But it’s undeniable that after everything both the DUP and Sinn Fein, not to mention the other Northern Irish political parties, have done to ensure a peaceful prosperity on this land is being threatened by the irrationality of the DUP’s own.
Peter Donnelly, Editor
As the UK Government recently ratcheted up the political game with the European Union, by unilaterally extending the grace periods on goods in transit between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, this is set to be the first major diplomatic spat of Spring 2021. This comes barely two months into the workings of the post-Brexit trading arrangements; the EU is now set to advance legal proceedings to fire a firm warning shot over the bows of the UK Government.
Yet the old adage – ‘people in glass houses should not throw stones’ – comes to the forefront of minds where the EU are concerned; they have always done thinly-veiled pietism the best. After all, at the end of January they moved to implement Article 16 of the NI Protocol which would have seen physical checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on life-saving Coronavirus vaccines; it was a hastily retracted faux pas which not only galavnised British public opinion against the bloc but had the ultra-rare consequence of uniting all major parties within the notoriously divided political arena that is Northern Ireland.
Add to the always simmering Northern Ireland political cauldron the development that the Loyalist Communities Council, a legal body representing proscribed loyalist paramilitary groups, wrote to the Prime Minister earlier in the week to withdraw their support from the Good Friday Agreement until such times that the Protocol situation is resolved to their satisfaction. Making peace should not be conditional and regardless of such pronouncements it is an unwelcome, yet evidentally unsuprising, development from the body which, although representing these illegal groups, should be doing all that is possible to contain community tensions.
What is clear is that now somebody, somewhere and somehow must demonstrate the necessary diplomatic skill to eclipse the grandstanding and go some way to having these issues resolved as a matter of urgency.
The Gown will keenly observe developments with all its combined sense and sensibility.
Words accompanying the photographs, in the article, are attributed to the Editor.