Telling the Irish government and northern nationalists to surrender the Northern Ireland Protocol and just let unionism and the British government decide what's best for the peace process is a nonstarter.

Like a lot of people, I'm increasingly bemused by the state of unionist politics in 2021. And when I say unionist I mean the current crop of musical-chair-leaders in the Democratic Unionist Party, still busy with their unexpected reenactments of the last days of Julius Cesar.

A lot has gone wrong for them in recent years and it does little good to indicate that it was entirely by their own hands.

Instead of lamenting their disastrous pursuit of Brexit they instead see sinister agents at work in Dublin, London, and Washington D.C. Their misfortunes are always the fault of others in other words, never themselves.

“The Irish government must stop cheerleading for the Northern Ireland Protocol,” their new leader (is he still their new leader?) Jeffrey Donaldson told the press this week.

“I want to make clear to the Irish Government that their cheerleading for the Protocol is simply not acceptable, given the harm that it is doing to Northern Ireland, it is dragging our politics backwards,” he warned. 

“If the Irish Government continues to support the imposition of a Protocol that harms our relationship with Great Britain then, by implication, it harms the relationship between Dublin and Belfast,” he continued.

Jeffrey Donaldson, Arlene Foster, and Nigel Dodds. (RollingNews.ie)

Jeffrey Donaldson, Arlene Foster, and Nigel Dodds. (RollingNews.ie)

This, as they say, is a bit rich. The Irish government warned the DUP repeatedly about the complicated land border question in the aftermath of Brexit, a Brexit that the majority of people in the North voted against.

Those warnings went unheeded (and were even scoffed at) by the DUP, but they expect the Irish government to heed them carefully now?

Telling the Irish government and northern nationalists (and the majority of people in the North who voted against Brexit) to surrender the protocol and their own political aspirations and just let unionism and the British government decide what's best for the peace process is beyond entitlement, it's a complete nonstarter. 

The DUP got what it wanted, after all. The UK has withdrawn from the European Union, including its single market and customs union, and it is now regarded as a third country. The Republic did not.

June 3, 2021: Edwin Poots, Paul Givan, and Micheal Martin in Dublin. (RollingNews.ie)

June 3, 2021: Edwin Poots, Paul Givan, and Micheal Martin in Dublin. (RollingNews.ie)

During the run-up to Brexit, the North was barely mentioned in the discussions, despite the profound misgivings being expressed in the Republic, but then in the aftermath of the vote, the dreary steeples quickly asserted themselves with the outrage that Dublin had long predicted.

The protocol, which was mutually agreed by all sides, was the only tailor-made solution to the sensitivities of all. It should – and it needs – to stay.

It's a profound mistake for the DUP to think the Republic's commitment to the EU is so porous that they'll be whipped into line by some 1970's style saber-rattling. The Republic will not be undermining its relationship with the EU or its own borders, or its autonomy as a state to placate the wholly implacable DUP.

There is can be no borderless Brexit. To suggest that there can is, in the words of Alliance party leader Naomi Long, fantasy politics.

"When you come outside of the EU there has to be a border," she said last week. "So a choice had to be made about where that border would go and all sides agreed that it would be in the Irish sea, being the most manageable option."

"Remember again that the DUP forced the unwilling majority of the citizens of the North down this road. The DUP really needs to reflect on how it got to this point."

It is clear they are trying to make the protocol a constitutional question because that is how they incentivize fearful loyalists, but as Long admits "the truth is that it is really a question of trade."

April 7, 2021: Fire fed by petrol burns as youths clashed at the Peace Gate at the Springfield Road/Lanark Way interface in Belfast. (Getty Images)

April 7, 2021: Fire fed by petrol burns as youths clashed at the Peace Gate at the Springfield Road/Lanark Way interface in Belfast. (Getty Images)

“Nobody will be less British tomorrow morning as a result of the protocol. No one will be less British next week as a result of the protocol. Where you get your sausages doesn't define your identity and it's about time we got a grip on the language because it's getting out of hand and whipping up fear and tension. The DUP say they want peace and stability but when they amplify that kind of language they don't provide solutions.”

The DUP can point fingers at Dublin and saber rattle until the cows come home. But the truth is that the UK has to honor its legal commitments and international law. 

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