Standing strong or standing alone: Donaldson’s calculated gamble…?

So I’ve listened to Paul Given’s short resignation speech and the much longer one from the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson. Judging from the emotion in his speech, it would seem unlikely that when we come back Paul will be the FM.

That’s not because the party is anticipating coming second to Sinn Féin (though insiders accept that’s certainly possible given the limited polling we have on the subject), but that I doubt anyone other than Jeffrey will be a candidate.

Brexit has pushed the DUP every which way but loose. Having been persuaded to endorse it, they blocked Mrs May’s deal which would have likely have led to a more moderate Brexit than the one Johnson has thus far led the rest of the UK.

Unfortunately for two DUP leaders (and possibly counting), that meant jettisoning Northern Ireland from the hard deal obtaining in the rest of the UK. Everything this last year has been scramble to pull something back out of the fire.

And there have been successes in the negotiation process. There have been mitigations on vets, medicines and for larger traders. But much of these concessions still leave small traders out of the deal. Progress, Donaldson says, has been too slow.

So what is going on here? Many of their opponents think this is the end for the DUP. That their actions are unconscionable. But they are hardly the first party to use the institutions established by the Belfast Agreement for their own narrow ends.

I agree with those who say this is about the May elections, but not necessarily about the likely outcome of those elections. There’s an implicit acceptance of that there is a process of amelioration of the provisions of the TCA (the trade agreement).

What he and his party needs is for that process to quicken and come to a conclusion before and not after the May elections. If they sit back and do nothing at this point, then they will inevitable get eaten at the polls.

The DUP may be out of step with the majority of folks in Northern Ireland (45% of those who want NI to remain in the Union routinely vote for parties other than them), but they are not as stupid as they are portrayed by their opponents or the media.

This move is just the latest in a sequence of ratcheting moves. First was the withdrawal from the North South Ministerial Council. Then (barely noticed by members of the public)…

…sought to have discussions with other Parties in the Executive on the legality of the checks being carried out at our Ports, but these discussions have been blocked by Sinn Fein.

Then…

Consequently, our Minister Edwin Poots MLA yesterday took action by issuing an instruction to stop these unlawful, unnecessary, and unacceptable checks at our ports.

And…

We have sought to have discussions with other Parties in the Executive on the legality of the checks being carried out at our Ports, but these discussions have been blocked by Sinn Fein.

And…

Consequently, our Minister Edwin Poots MLA yesterday took action by issuing an instruction to stop these unlawful, unnecessary, and unacceptable checks at our ports.

Finally…

The time has now come for us to act and for the people to have their say.

Consequently the First Minister Paul Givan MLA has this afternoon tendered his resignation to the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.  His resignation will take effect from midnight tonight.

I warned that, in the absence of decisive action to restore Northern Ireland’s place in the UK Internal Market, we would take further decisive action.  I have given the Government and the EU more than enough time to act.

Even after reading the BBC report, I don’t know if checks have stopped.  But when you read the sequencing here, that seems to me to be a side issue to the bigger piece which is can the British Government and the EU be persuaded to speed things up?

And even if they do will we even know? The DUP have done what Sinn Féin did in 2017 which is to effectively jettison themselves from what had become for them was a burning deck. That’s a hell of a risk, but nevertheless it’s calculated one.

This has the hallmarks of a Peter Robinson production: when you’re in a crisis, lengthen the period in which it can play out and give yourself time. Anything, I guess, is better than just walking along to the abattoir as ALL their opponents plainly prefer.

But it also depends on the Westminster government to act up on their behalf and the EU continuing to play ball. Those unionists angered by Leo Varadkar taking a picture of an exploded border post to negotiations in Brussels will shout tit for tat.

But that does not mean it will play out the way they hope. The Protocol is integral to the TCA. Triggering Article 16 won’t end it, just buy more time for a period of mediation. That’s why the party is now talking about ending the border not the protocol.

If the May election becomes a referendum on the sea border, political unionism may take yet another hit, whilst the DUP soaks up almost everyone else who’s left. Or is it just one last roll of the dice?