For decades I have watched the long, awkward, halting dance between unionism and successive British governments, where one partner apparently hopes that the music will never end and the other is keeping a weather eye on the bar and buffet table.

Nothing ever matches, not the enthusiasm, ardor, focus, destination, or even the footsteps. Instead, it has become a zombie wedding dance for two where neither quite knows who's leading or who follows, or even where the relationship is going.

Thanks to Brexit, Boris Johnson, the recent election in the North, the Good Friday Agreement, and the tragic 'I don't care what anyone thinks of me I'm in love' myopia of Ulster unionism, I can now say with more conviction than I ever have in my adult life that I do know where this relationship is going – straight into the dustbin of history.

Boris Johnson. (Getty Images)

Boris Johnson. (Getty Images)

In the immortal words of Donna Summer, this is truly the last dance for unionism, by which I mean for that patriarchal, anachronistic, out-of-time, rapidly fading echo of imperial England and its long-vanished empire. 

Because you can fight your neighbors, fight your corner, fight for your convictions but the one thing you can never successfully do is fight time. Like the snapping patience of nationalists, it has simply run out. Even Boris knows it now and that's really saying something because Boris only cares about what happens to himself.

Just like those famous Japanese soldiers who were discovered still living in the woods and fighting on many years after World War Two had actually ended, there is an almost poignant aspect to Jeffrey Donaldson and unionism's cynical retread of the greatest hits of their own stone in the living stream intransigence. 

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. (Getty Images)

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. (Getty Images)

Call it the go-to reflex. When the chips are down, unionism does what it has always done, which is to paint itself into a cul de sac and blame everyone else for its own sour retreat. 'You made me do this,' their leaders always assure us, even as they hold up their paint-covered brushes and mark their lines.

But did we make him, or his party's predecessor Arlene Foster do this? Didn't they pursue a Brexit that the majority in the North voted to reject? Didn't they pursue a hard border that they knew gravely threatened the peace?

Arlene Foster. (

Arlene Foster. (

Didn't they undermine the previous prime minister Theresa May to elevate her bumptious, untrustworthy rival Boris Johnson and his quickly signed protocol? Didn't they do all this over all the warnings of Dublin, who saw where it all led?

"What if excess of love/bewildered them till they died?" wrote Yeats about the revolutionary Irish, but he might also be talking about unionism now. One hundred years later, the desire for a perfect union is also the force that's ensuring unionism's end.

This carefully rebuilt HMS Titanic is steering its own course toward the looming iceberg, having somehow convinced itself that this time it will be different, this time their indifferent partner will see their value, this time the center will hold.

Meanwhile, Donaldson has consulted with loyalists who gave him his marching orders, he has ignored the wishes of every shade of nationalism, he has lied about the hard economic consequences of the perilous path he is on, he has run roughshod over unprecedented economic opportunities and in W.H. Auden's marvelous phrase he has coughed when he should have kissed.

Gutta cavat lapidem, wrote Ovid – meaning dripping water hollows out the stone. Unionism derived its power through the denial of its neighbors' own power, but somehow, over time, the overlooked achieved stature, and the powerless attained strength. Even the ancients knew it, time and flowing water hollows out every stone in the living stream. 

This week, we will witness some victory laps being taken by the most reactionary, backward-looking voices within unionism, who believe they have finally attained the outcome they sought with the apparent gutting of the Northern Protocol. 

But the British government's intention to break international law for the gains of the moment will have to be carefully weighed against the many losses of the future. That may yet soften their coughs, as they say in Belfast.

The Greeks taught us that sometimes victory is actually defeat. Sometimes, all those colorful hoisted banners and loud cheers conceal what is actually coming. Sometimes, an excess of love is actually is bewilderment, because the only unstoppable force in life is change.