DUP MPs told to ‘get over yourselves’

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The DUP leadership is completely at odds with civic unionism after a draft Brexit deal won praise across the north of Ireland, particularly from farmers and business interests who see significant advantages in proposed arrangements to facilitate trade with both Britain and the EU.

Even before the text became known, DUP MPs had vowed to vote against it in the Westminster parliament. In doing so, they fully aligned themselves with Tories who are implacably opposed to the EU and who are seeking to topple British Prime Minister Theresa May.

By doing so, they effectively withdrew their critical support for Theresa May’s minority government and upended the delicate balance of power at Westminster.

Ironically, the draft deal, published on Wednesday night, complies with unionist demands for no trade barriers between the Six County and Britain.

The deal between London and the EU also provides long-delayed legislation for the ‘backstop’ of no remilitarised border through Ireland. Beyond an initial transition period, it will ensure businesses in the north of Ireland have full access to markets across the EU and Britain, making the Six Counties a bridge between the two trading areas, rather than a barrier.

The draft Protocol document also contains a section on rights of individuals in the north of Ireland, and ensuring that those rights continue to be protected. It specifically allows for the continuation of the North’s Human Rights and Equality Commissions.

By scheduling customs authorisations to take place directly at businesses, the major tangible change under the Brexit deal will be an increase in agricultural safety and hygiene inspections. After years of difficult negotiations, that outcome has been widely hailed as a good one for both parts of Ireland.

Despite a full year of vacillation by the British Prime Minister, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted Mrs May had “honoured her promise” on the border backstop, initially made last December.

“No international negotiation gives one side everything it wants,” he said.

This was an acknowledgement that the Dublin government had failed to prevent the introduction of a proposed review mechanism, which could see an arbitration panel decide to bring the backstop deal for the border to a premature end.

“That backstop must be maintained and protected,” said Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald in a statement this weekend.

“It provides the bottom line and is our insurance policy against the worst excesses of Brexit, which we know will be a disaster for this country.

But a DUP MP sparked angry exchanges when he insisted the deal was a disaster for unionists, and that the overwhelmingly unionist Ulster Farmers group were “wrong”.

Chief executive Wesley Aston of the powerful Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) had said his group was supporting the deal, and asked the DUP to vote for it it comes before the Westminster parliament. He also warned that the other option, a no-deal scenario where Britain cuts all ties with the EU, would be “absolutely disastrous” for the agri-business and farming industry in the North.

“I don’t believe they have read the detail of this, they have not read the 500 pages,” Jeffrey Donaldson said. “There are serious constitutional and economic implications of this deal for Northern Ireland”.

There have been increasingly hostile reactions from business, farming and manufacturing interests to the DUP’s rhetoric and stance on the deal. Former UFU president Ian Marshall accused Donaldson of being “disrespectful” to the farming community, while business leader Richard Hogg of Manufacturing NI said that unionist politicians should ‘get over themselves’.

‘VASSALAGE’

Tory hardliners had worked to consolidate a coalition in favour of their planned coup against Theresa May, with dire warnings of ‘Dublin Rule’.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, without having read the text, claimed it was “vassal state stuff” because Britain would be required to remain in compliance with EU regulations while in the Customs Union.

“For the first time since partition, Dublin - under these proposals - would have more say in some aspects of the government of Northern Ireland than London,” he said.

Notorious ‘Brextremist’ Jacob Rees-Mogg also foresaw a British “vassal state” enslaved by Dublin and Brussels.

“It is a failure of the government’s negotiating position, it is a failure to deliver on Brexit and it is potentially dividing up the United Kingdom.

“It is very hard to see any reason why the Cabinet should support Northern Ireland being ruled from Dublin.”

Some DUP MPs sought to relive the outrage which greeted the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.

“Leo Varadkar.. has ostracised and angered unionists to a similar level,” sad Ian Paisley. A glowering Sammy Wilson compared EU bureaucrats to the IRA: “If the EU think that what the IRA couldn’t achieve, they’re going to achieve, they’ve got another thought coming to them.”

Prominent loyalist Jamie Bryson called for a “mobilisation”.

“This ‘deal’ will not be tolerated or accepted,” he said. The PUL [Protestant Ulster Loyalist] community of NI will never permit what this deal enables - Dublin to de-facto rule over over NI.”

‘PLAYING TO THE GALLERY’

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has urged Sinn Fein to take its seats in the House of Commons for the key vote on the draft Brexit treaty.

The DUP’s ten seats at Westminster remain influential, and pressure on Sinn Fein to take their seats has resurfaced.

Although it recognises British rule in the north of Ireland in 1998, Sinn Fein has never taken its seats, which would involve swearing an oath of allegiance to the English queen. The move would likely be seen as a betrayal by some nationalists, but potentially welcomed as a pragmatic initiative by others.

Coveney saying that the lack of nationalist MPs in Westminster was “skewing the debate”.

“If this vote in Westminster is lost by two or three votes and Sinn Fein are standing outside speaking to the media, but not voting, I think people will rightly ask some pretty serious questions of them.”

In response, Mary Lou McDonald accused Coveney of “playing to the gallery” during his Fine Gael party conference, which is taking place in Dublin this weekend.

“He knows Sinn Fein has an abstentionist policy, he knows full well that the British parliamentarians have to arrive at their decision, he knows that Sinn Fein cannot ride in on its white charger and make all of this go away.

“The Tanaiste has urged measure in the comments that people make in terms of seeing this deal over the line. I think he needs to practise what he preaches.”

She also urged Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to be cautious in his public statements after he sought to take credit for the deal on Wednesday night.

“I think the Taoiseach and Tanaiste as they speak to their party conference this weekend need to bear in mind that Brexit is for keeps, it is not done yet, we are still in the middle of a very, very dangerous scenario for this entire country,” she said.

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