“The fact that all of this was happening in virtual space made no difference.”
– Douglas Adams
So where stands the Windsor Framework? And where the DUP? The first is easier to fathom than the second. Whilst Boris Johnson was facing a jury of his parliamentary peers (and struggling in withering fire from fellow Tory MP Bernard Jenkins).
There was a passionate debate in the Chamber on the Stormont Brake on new regulations (Windsor Framework [Democratic Scrutiny] Regulations 2023) that inserts a new Schedule into the Northern Ireland Act 1998 by statutory instrument.
DUP MPs made it clear what their objections were (not least, the brake merely triggers a method by which a resolution can be arrived at between Westminster and Brussels). Tory MP Mark Francois made the same point himself:
…if Stormont pulls the brake, UK Ministers may still not exercise the brake in exceptional circumstances—so it is down to ministerial fiat—and given that, even if they do, the EU can object and it will be referred to independent arbitration, where the UK could lose, that is a route to arbitration, isn’t it? That is not a veto.
The other is the 3% of business not covered by the deal (small businesses mostly outside the various agreements made between the UK and Brussels). The smaller business end of the spectrum who don’t pull the same weight in the lobby.
But, as LBJ once famously pointed out, politics is about numbers. Right now not only does Sunak have almost all of his party, he also has the full throated backing Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP meaning the House divided: Ayes 515 to Noes 29.
The Liverpool survey also pointed out that the internal resistance to the deal is far less than previously predicted (in fact there’s more opposition in nationalism than unionism). What is needed is a programme of confidence building across the board.
If Sunak can cede further marginal reforms might both suit the DUP’s harder liners and enhance confidence amongst that huge number of Don’t Knows, which, in theory, could break both ways.
Sunak’s challenge is to take all dissonances (unionist primarily, but nationalist too) around this nascent deal and reframe it as a wider signal of a better future to come. That doesn’t mean ignoring the downsides, but folding them into the wider offering.
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