The UK government and the European Union agreed on a new Brexit deal on Monday, February 27 which will see the use of green and red lanes at Northern Ireland ports for goods entering the North from Britain. There has been universal praise for the new Windsor Framework, including from President Biden.
The ink was hardly dry on the new deal for the Northern Irish Protocol, signed by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday, when 78 leading members of the British business community signed their names to a letter urging the parties concerned to agree to the deal immediately.
Their move says a lot about the level of frustration that has built up over many years on an issue that is perplexing to most ordinary people, and clearly to the British business community too.
Their acquiescence in accepting the deal was firmly based on a resolution to the major issue which was how to designate goods coming from Britain into Northern Ireland. The Sunak agreement allows for a green and red lane which will greatly speed up the delivery of supplies such as medicines, food products, and many other items.
That it took so long to achieve this breakthrough is really a telling example of how detached from reality so many people in the Tory Party actually are. Not to mention the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland, whose 10 MPs think they can dictate to a Parliament of over 600 MPs.
The Tories know well that the ordinary British voter is sick and tired of the Brexit issue and wants the Northern Ireland Protocol question to be settled as soon as possible.
There was clear evidence of that last week in a by-election in West Lancashire when the Labour Party incumbent won by a majority that, if it occurred in a national election, would have seen the Tories drop from 400 seats to 138.
So Sunak is doing the one thing that makes political sense – finding a way to deal with Brexit and the Protocol, because he knows that if those two items remain the main topic, he has no chance of re-election.
Matthew Parris, writing in the UK Sunday Times, called Tory opponents of the new deal “bat**** crazy,” referring to the fact that they will be signing their political death certificates if they oppose Sunak’s deal.
However, British politics are in such a state of chaos that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tells more lies than George Santos, seeks a way back to power by gathering opposition to the Sunak deal. This is despite the fact that in 2019 Johnson signed off on a very similar deal which he later reneged on.
If you are confused you have every right to be. And there’s another factor, of course – the DUP, which has issued a list of demands that must be met before they will agree to sign off on a deal.
But the political landscape has changed for the DUP. Up until recently, they held the balance of power and were considered major players in any British government with regard to legislation.
Now they have very little political leverage other than threatening to crash the whole deal which would make them even more unpopular than they are now if they attempt this.
Ulster unionists are at a crossroads. They can either join the political fray and fight their corner within the context of a new Assembly in Northern Ireland, or they can once more be cast aside and spend their time seeking to have their tiny voices heard among the power brokers in Westminster.
The guess here is that they will sign up to the new agreement as they simply have nowhere else to go. But one should never underestimate the power of the word “no” in unionism. The DUP will likely prove very awkward customers in the weeks ahead.
Sunak has announced that the new deal will be put to a vote in the British Parliament. There is no doubt he will win that vote as Labour has agreed to back him. But it will be a long and trying process if Johnson and his gang of thieves try once again to undermine the deal.
Even King Charles has been roped in to help pass the new agreement. Surely that will be enough for all the British naysayers to accept reality.
*This column first appeared in the March 1 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.