In a recent, otherwise well informed, discussion the idea came that the DUP is only using the protocol to prolong the time when it will have to accept being deputy First Minister. I had two problems with that.
It assumes that the issues around the protocol are trivial (no party in Stormont thinks this), plus the idea that there’s any easy recovery from the current position for the party in any new election is naive to say the least.
It was also based on the DUP’s refusal to answer a BS question that circulated widely and repeatedly among journalists before the election. No politician is going to tell the electorate s/he’s planning on coming second.
This may have been commonplace before social media, but it’s reverberation with loosely connected audiences allowed it to take on a significance it might otherwise not have. Not that the DUP deserve much sympathy.
They’ve used competition for the First Minister’s role to promote an idea there was no choice but the already largest unionist party. This time around, the trick stopped working and voters who left them to their fate.
The problem with the time spent propounding the same question is the degree to which it distracts journalists from where the substantial story, which is that the Protocol does not need dumped it does need fixed.
As Newton Emerson last week noted:
…the DUP is desperate to revive Stormont and has a consistent and realistic protocol landing zone, with a conceptual ‘green channel’ for goods staying inside Northern Ireland. This would allow it to claim the sea border had been removed within the UK, despite substantial checks remaining.
Everyone involved in protocol and Stormont negotiations realises this is the DUP’s position. Swathes of the public do not share that certainty, however, and that alone has a negative political impact.
It means unionist concerns about the protocol are not seen as genuine, undermining efforts to address them. There is a remarkable consensus across all five main Stormont parties that the protocol needs big improvement through a “green channel” model – even the EU refers to its solutions as an “express lane”.
This is the solution, and it’s a solution for everyone at a time when the cost of living crisis threatens to swallow some households in one whole bite, and put a serious squeeze on up to a third of the population.
The chaotic state of the lead UK government party at the moment does not help anyone, least of all the DUP.
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