Boris Johnson visited Northern Ireland on Monday to meet with the parties elected to Stormont after last week’s elections which saw a historic victory for Sinn Fein. For the first time since the British carved Northern Ireland out of Ireland with borders drawn in such a way as to guarantee a Unionist majority, an Irish nationalist party has become the largest party in Stormont. It’s a seismic shift in Northern Irish politics and one which, as you might expect, the DUP is not taking at all well. The DUP and the other Unionist parties fought the recent elections asking the people of Northern Ireland to give them a mandate to overturn the Northern Irish protocol which was the basis of Johnson’s Brexit deal with the EU.
The protocol attempted to solve the contradiction created by the Conservatives’ ideologically driven insistence that Brexit meant that the UK must exit the European Single Market and Customs Union, and the Good Friday Agreement underpinning peace in the troubled six counties, a key component of which is the guarantee that there must be no checks or controls of any kind along the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the island. The DUP had been enthusiastic proponents of Brexit, believing that it would sink the Good Friday Agreement cement Northern Ireland’s place in a UK which was firmly outside the EU, and make the reunification of Ireland a distant and unlikely prospect.
Instead Brexit has proven to be the undoing of the DUP. Hitherto the party’s intransigence and its unwillingness to embrace the principle of compromise had always been its greatest strength, but they made the fatal mistake of taking the lying Conservatives at their word, and now the DUP find that not only have they lost their prized place as the largest party in Stormont to Sinn Fein, but there are customs checks and controls between Northern Ireland and Britain, and a reunification referendum is now a more likely prospect than it has ever been. It has been a catastrophic miscalculation on the part of the DUP, who are now sitting down to a banquet of consequences which they themselves brought about. No wonder they are currently in the midst of a full on strop. Can you hear that sound? It’s the world’s tiniest violin giving a rendition of the Sash, only it turns out it’s not a sash, it’s the petard that the DUP are hoist by.
Northern Ireland uses the same electoral system for Stormont that Scotland uses in council elections. It is a strictly proportional voting system. By a substantial margin voters gave a clear and unarguable majority to parties which support the protocol. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the First Minister must come from the largest party in Stormont and the Deputy First Minister from the second largest party, However having lost the election the DUP has now refused to participate in government, even refusing to allow a speaker to be elected, meaning that no business can take place at Stormont, in effect holding the Northern Irish Assembly to ransom in order that they can still impose their will on an electorate which had the audacity to reject them at the ballot box. Unionism was never democratic, it was majoritarian, but now it’s no longer in the majority its anti-democratic nature is exposed. There is a lesson there for Scotland too.
The protocol works for and is supported by Northern Ireland. It’s the English Tories and their sectarian British supremacist friends in the DUP who have a problem with Northern Ireland showing the rest of the UK what a folly Brexit is.
So now, in order to get itself out of a mess which it itself created, because of its lies and duplicity and by pandering to the DUP and teaching it that its intransigence would be rewarded, the British Government is threatening to renege on the Protocol. This means that Johnson is now prepared to rip up an international treaty and risk a trade war with the EU precisely when households are facing soaring energy, food and housing costs, and the worst cost of living crisis in decades. All those countries around the world which “global Britain” seeks to sign post-Brexit trade deals with will now know that no deal which the British Government signs up to will be honoured and that the UK will trash it the second that Johnson feels that it is no longer in his own interests.
Johnson admitted that he negotiated and signed up to the protocol, but he had hoped that the EU wouldn’t adhere to the terms of the deal that he himself had negotiated and then sold to the British public as having got Brexit done, proclaiming that it was a fantastic deal. But now the Prime law breaker is insisting that the current mess isn’t his fault, it’s all the fault of that EU for imagining that when Johnson agreed to a deal that was hammered out after a lengthy process of negotiation, he actually meant a word of it.
It’s outrageous, but entirely in character for the Conservatives that government ministers are now pretending that they had no idea of the chaos Johnson’s “oven ready” deal would cause. Their own Brexit impact assessment said that the deal would mean checks, increased costs to businesses and an increase in the price of high street goods, and that it entailed those checks on commercial traffic between Northern Ireland and Britain which Johnson promised the DUP were never going to happen. But it seems that they were far too busy having boozy lockdown busting parties to read it.
DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr. even claimed that Johnson privately said before the 2019 election that he would “tear up” the Protocol. He told BBC Newsnight before the December 2019 election : “Boris Johnson did tell me personally… after agreeing to the protocol, he would sign up to changing that protocol and indeed tearing it up.” So much for “oven ready.”
Johnson lied to the DUP, he lied to the EU, and he lied to the public, and now he too is sitting down to a banquet of consequences. The global Britain that Scotland was promised it could be a part of in 2014 has been exposed as a rogue state which trashes international treaties which it itself negotiated, stabs its friends and allies in the back, and has not the slightest care for how its recklessness affects its citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet. This is what happens with a Westminster system which prevents politicians from being held to account, you get governed by charlatans who blame everyone else for their own sins.
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