Often when something needs saying, it’s Newton Emerson who has the courage to say it. Taking his cue from the Liverpool survey last week he has this to say about findings that suggest there’s a consensus is for retaining the protocol…
But on the unionist side he notes…
Unionist acceptance of the protocol is resignation, not enthusiasm. This silent majority is to some extent a sheepish majority, digesting unionism’s fault for its own plight.
Unionists also have to accept that living within an arrangement at odds with their nationality is what they demand of nationalists. I believe you can hear the wheels turning on that thought if you stand quietly enough in the garden centre.
The DUP leader is promising London’s threat to trigger article 16 will obtain major changes the protocol, although not remove it. Even if he is mistaken this is realistic positioning, in line with the British government’s apparent intentions.
Most unionists will hope the ploy succeeds but be unimpressed by Donaldson’s attempts to claim credit for it and unnerved by the raising of tensions. What the garden centre really wants from the DUP is contrition.
There will be greater dismay at the EU’s response to London. Threatening a trade war with the UK is something almost no unionist can support. It ensures Brussels will lose majority sympathy in Northern Ireland, which it professes to value.
The rush to declare war is because delay might prove there is no serious risk to the single market and the protocol has been absurdly over-engineered. This could be seen as appalling cynicism. [Emphasis added]
As Brian Walker noted yesterday, the EU’s capacity to even “declare a war” is completely hidebound by it own rules. Time passing will only reveal more data on the reality of the question of whether we need the most regulated border in the EU.
If not, then over time, the Tanaiste’s trenchant bellicosity (aimed, perhaps, at embarrassing the Taoiseach more than for any reason of foreign policy) will prove to be nothing more than, to quote Macbeth, “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
It’s not just unionists who’ve witnessed the drift into an all pervasive, anti British public reflex in the south. The Liverpool survey also notes, not for the first time, just how far nationalism is from having a border poll, never mind winning one.
In real terms, Irish unity is and always has been a complicated affair. Its most vocal advocates Sinn Féin to this day refuse to condemn even just one of 2152 lives their paramilitary comrades took on behalf of what they called Irish Freedom.
On the other hand the UK’s Brexit policy has tested almost everything that’s been achieved in the bilateral relations in the last 27 years. But there’s no substitute for building bonds of belonging between all the people on the island.
Brexit has tested those bonds to breaking point. In reaction Sinn Féin’s endless promises of unity (endlessly predicting the end of the British union, and just as endlessly being wrong) is now the most popular party in the republic.
But as Newton notes, if folks in the south think imminent unity of the island will provide them with an emotionally satisfying revenge on Perfidious Albion for putting
them us all through hell, they’re excluding about 80% of the evidence.
The Republic may owe unionism nothing on Brexit, but it must accept the union is a fact for a long time to come – a particular challenge under a future Sinn Féin government.
Nobody can foresee Northern Ireland celebrating a second centenary because nobody can imagine anything a century ahead. However, a 150th anniversary is plausible, even probable.
Protocol pragmatism is the only sustainable common ground for everyone on this island on this timescale.
It may even hold the germ of future unity. But the Liverpool survey shows how few people in NI want this thing not to work. Even a report on Radio Four from Rathcoole yesterday made it clear loyalist residents want the politics to work.
A period of silence from the gobsh!tes (whether they’re in Belfast, Dublin, London or Brussels) is surely in order for a while? I’ve seen warehouses stacked to the ceiling with German goods ready for distribution in two internal markets.
The anticipation of an economic renaissance rests not on false promises but on what’s already been realised by the practical outworking of the NI Protocol as it is. If we can just sort the E/W plumbing out then the war will truly be over.
“All knowledge hurts.”
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty