Do not let your loyalty become slavery

Seven weeks. That is the number of weeks since Christmas Eve 2020. Remember the day? The UK celebrated the “oven-ready” Brexit deal brokered with the European Union. A deal heralded by the British Government as the perfect Christmas present for all those within the UK.

Seven weeks. That is the number of weeks it took for some members of the British Government to start murmuring discontent at their prestigious deal of leaving one union to solidify their own. “Teething issues” the people of Northern Ireland were told. Even the uninformed eye can see it is far more than teething issues, they are blatant flaws, flaws that are riddled throughout the Brexit deal. It is the new normal.

You have to feel for exporters who all of a sudden are forced to navigate the narrow waters of inspections, safety regulations and not to forget drowning in the arduous scale of paperwork befallen on them. The unfortunate reality is that we have not even seen the worst of it. For only many businesses find themselves temporary shut amidst the ongoing lockdown, the sheer scale of obstacles facing them are yet to be fully exposed.

Even as Ian Paisley Jr stared down Michael Gove a few weeks ago and said, “What did we do, to members of the benches over there, to be screwed over by this protocol?” things had already begun to unravel. You can understand the extra angst among the DUP and unionists. The idea of a border down the Irish sea was unthinkable two years ago but to add in the chaos befallen on businesses too, well, you have double bad deal.

But the truth is, even excluding the Northern Ireland Protocol, Northern Ireland was sold a lie with the Brexit deal. UK independence from the ‘shackles’ of the EU was meant to strengthen the UK as a whole, but it is clear by now that as far as the British Government was concerned, Northern Ireland was just an afterthought, especially for Unionists.

While the Northern Ireland Protocol without doubt, should be implemented to avoid having a dreaded hard border on this island and the triggering of Article 16 should be avoided at all costs, it does not change the fact that for Unionists, the protocol is a stab in the back. This is how the British Government repays Unionist loyalty after all these years.

Paisley Jr attempt to remind Michael Gove of his Unionist credentials a few days ago, only emphasised that. Trying to hold relevance in the fact that ‘all us unionists must stick together’. It was sad viewing. The DUP has been betrayed by the British Government and now many unionists and loyalists feel betrayed by the DUP.

It has led us to Peter Robinson suggesting the DUP should even possibly withdraw from the assembly in protest over the protocol. If we are being honest, that idea is cowardice. Its easy to run away and hide when things get a little tough. The people of Northern Ireland deserve an operational and stable Government, for once. While an undercurrent of loyalist violence bubbles away, leadership is needed now more than ever.

Unionism finds itself in a perilous position. Brexit has utterly backfired to the point they feel betrayed by the people to whom they pledge their loyalty. It has re-ignited talk of a United Ireland like never before and while people should be weary of anymore talk of “oven-ready” deals that are marketed like next day deliveries off Amazon, a frank discussion needs to be had on where Northern Ireland wishes to find itself in the next ten to twenty years. A point must arrive eventually where you have been treated poorly for so long, that loyalty at that stage is only delusion.


“A reflection of Belfast” by Christine Schmitt is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0