DUP panel could do worse than seek defend NI’s place in the UK from a point of view of economic strength…

As we wait for the DUP to decide on the Windsor Framework, and Rishi Sunak runs off with the sword of Damocles to cut the rights of creature who has the misfortune to be caught as they wash up on England’s southern shore, here’s Graham Gudgeon:

Some unionists may insist that Northern Ireland be treated identically with GB, but the fact is that this has never been the case. NI had devolved government more than half a century before Scotland and Wales and for the last quarter century has had an almost unique form of involuntary coalition government which has proved inoperable for over a third of its existence. Northern Ireland was established in 1921 with too large a territory, incorporating too many Irish nationalists, and has proved close to ungovernable for significant parts of its history.  It is to the credit of the UK that it has survived as part of the UK for a century and is likely to continue to do so indefinitely. The recent ARINS poll found that a lower proportion of Catholics in the North (40%) favoured Irish unity than Catholics in the South. For many Northern Catholics, British rule has proved a positive experience.

Brexit and Protocol can be viewed as just another turn of the screw in the difficult task of managing the unstable polity that is Northern Ireland. In this case, the UK has badly mismanaged the consequences of Brexit in Ireland, but has had to face the reality that the EU is a major economic power with initially antagonistic intent. The UK should have persisted with proposals for the fully electronic border which the EU’s own advisors and even Irish customs officials agreed was possible. More recently the idea of mutual enforcement, with each jurisdiction having legally-based export controls, should have been pushed harder. The reasons for not pursuing these alternatives has been a fear of the consequences for trade and cooperation with the EU. There is little point in opponents of the protocol focussing solely on its local consequences without a consideration of the potential consequences for GB of a failure to reach an agreement with the EU.

Indeed. His conclusion…

The reality now is that British public opinion wants the Protocol issue put to bed and believes that Sunak has achieved this. They welcome a normalisation of relations with the EU and even if this amounts to little in practice, they appreciate a warmer tone. An alliance between the DUP and the ERG exercised real influence as long as a Tory government remained in power, but key members of the ERG have accepted the WF, and DUP influence has thus waned.

The DUP are not now in a position to prevent the WF from being implemented and even if they were, the EU could sit and wait for a Labour Government to implement the arrangements. One advantage of a settlement on the Protocol is that it limits the scope for an incoming Labour administration to argue for dynamic alignment with EU regulations across the entire UK. Some will say that the WF imposes de facto alignment anyway, but as argued above this issue is likely to be less important in practice than it appears in principle.

The choice is difficult for the DUP but the best bet may be to accept what is on offer as a partial advance while continuing to campaign to remove EU law altogether. The ongoing campaign could be pursued inside the Stormont Assembly and Executive. The next stage in this campaign can come in 2024/25 when the existing Protocol provides for an Assembly vote on whether the Protocol should survive. The DUP will need to persuade other local parties to support major improvements to the Windsor deal. This will be difficult but is not impossible and will depend on future events. [Emphasis added]


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