By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)
In many ways we haven’t moved on since Theresa May invoked Article 50 in April 2017 and set the clock ticking to leave the EU.
Since then all British prime ministers have been negotiating with their own MPs to get Brexit done. In fact many would say Conservative prime ministers since David Cameron have been in negotiations with their own party about the EU for the past 13 years, despite Cameron’s plea to “stop banging on about Europe”.
As in all the previous ‘negotiations’ since 2017, one item on the agenda was trying to remove any prime minister deemed to be soft on Europe and incapable of delivering a Brexit acceptable to what Keir Starmer called “the Brexit purity cult”.
That’s a major part of the present kerfuffle which will reach a climax when Sunak eventually puts his deal to the vote.
Technically he doesn’t have to, but most observers believe ERG MPs will find a way to engineer a vote to test Sunak’s strength.
In the midst of all this are the DUP, who scurry around in the delusional belief that they are players.
Reg Empey is correct when he said they are “being used as a battering ram in a power struggle over which they have no control”.
Empey added that Boris Johnson’s intervention “is all to do with the struggles in the Conservative party and his campaign to get back into Downing Street. The people of Northern Ireland are once again collateral damage just as we were for his last campaign of ‘getting Brexit done’.” He concluded: “The whole thing is outrageous.”
In the process, however, much damage is being done to the Good Friday Agreement and not only because the DUP have collapsed all GFA institutions.
Over the 13 wasted years of Conservative government, successive prime ministers have brazenly breached the Agreement’s requirement to act with the ‘rigorous impartiality’ between the two communities described in the GFA; none more so than Theresa May with her 2017 confidence and supply deal.
At the time John Major warned it meant the British couldn’t act as an ‘honest broker’. Not that any government from 2010 tried.
Relentlessly indulging the DUP, the most extreme cabal of MPs elected in Britain or Ireland, has meant distorting the consent mechanisms in the GFA to advance the DUP’s aim of acquiring a minority veto.
At his meeting with Leo Varadkar in 2019, Johnson – yes, Johnson – proposed an Irish Sea border which he assured Varadkar would not only keep the all-Ireland economy “functioning” but “deepening”. Johnson in return asked for a minority veto at Stormont on any changes to EU rules.
Neither Varadkar nor the EU would accept that a devolved administration, never mind a minority in it, could veto an international treaty struck by its government.
Donaldson keeps prattling on about cross-community consent but, as you’ve read here often, the GFA is clear that only applies to devolved matters. Therefore when Donaldson says the protocol needs the consent of both communities he’s talking garbage.
However, because factions in the Conservative party have, as Reg Empey says, weaponised DUP opposition in their campaign to remove the jurisdiction of the ECJ or get rid of Sunak, they trot out this nonsense too. You heard it most recently from the clueless Penny Mordaunt talking about the need to have the support of both communities. Unfortunately, like most English journalists, Laura Kuenssberg didn’t challenge her on her gibberish.
Let’s be clear about this. In the end there’ll be a deal. The DUP will continue to boycott Stormont because in unionism, intransigence reaps electoral dividends, but the bottom line is the protocol isn’t a local matter, it’s an international treaty.
There’s no way back to a pre-Brexit north. The DUP are Conservative Party pawns as unionists have always been. It took Carson a decade to find out.