By Jamie Bryson
In recent months UUP leader Doug Beattie has taken a number of swipes at me on social media, in response to challenges I have posed to him and/or the UUP in regards their stance on the Protocol. At no stage has Mr Beattie engaged with the merits of any of the points, instead choosing to hurl jibes and insults.
I would not lower myself to in return hurling insults at Mr Beattie, save for observing that as the leader of the party of Carson, Craig, and the late Lord Trimble (who, regardless of whether one disagreed with his analysis in 1998, at least took up the challenge to argue his case on the issues), his regular jibes and social media outbursts are rather embarrassing.
I shall simply borrow a phrase from Maggie Thatcher “if they attack you personally, it means they have not a single political argument left”.
On each occasion Mr Beattie personally attacks me, he is buoyed by the praise he receives for doing so not from his own community (indeed, the most recent LucidTalk poll showed he is the most unpopular unionist leader in the unionist community), but from social media activists from the nationalist community, and the surrogate-nationalist Alliance party. In a somewhat confused approach, Mr Beattie and his fellow UUP social media acolytes think this is somehow a good thing.
I think Carl McClean, who recently left the UUP, labelling the party as “Alliance with flags” put it best:
“it may garner them likes on social media, from those unlikely to vote for them anyway”.
If Mr Beattie is so sure of his position, why doesn’t he simply engage with the merits of the arguments, and dismantle me in public for all to see?
Take my arguments, show them up and expose me as a fool.
It is worth remembering that alarm at the UUP’s constitutional position is not confined to me or Jim Allister but has also been articulated publicly by persons such as David Campbell (former UUP Chairman and Chief of Staff to David Trimble), David McNarry and the unionist paper, the Belfast Newsletter.
But Mr Beattie will not, for whatever reason, engage with the challenges we all individually raise.
The first response to this article nationalist/Alliance supporters in the Twitter bubble will urge upon Mr Beattie will be for him to refuse to engage with an unelected individual. In other words, they will seek to create an escape hatch to allow Mr Beattie to once again avoid having to engage on the merits.
However, perhaps Mr Beattie will want to demonstrate to his followers that he is indeed capable of dismantling the anti-Agreement arguments he so rails against.
I am confident in my argument, and will set it out. Can Mr Beattie do likewise?
The UUP have, since 1998, extolled the virtues of the Belfast Agreement and trumpeted the purported “safeguards” it provides for unionism, and the Union, with the main focus being on the principle of consent.
That this was the core foundation upon which pro-Agreement unionism rested can hardly be credibly disputed. But to make the point good, I simply refer to the affidavit of Lord Trimble in the pan-Unionist Protocol challenge (Allister et al) in which he made clear that the only reason he was able to persuade (by the slimmest of margins) a majority of unionists to support the 1998 Agreement was due to the principle of consent. It is trite to point out that majority has gone, with the vast majority of unionists now strongly opposed to the Agreement.
Lord Trimble made clear in 1998 the alleged value of the principle of consent was in that it ensured the continued operation of the Act of Union, and guarded against any diminution of Northern Ireland’s constitutional status. He correctly said: “the Act of Union remains firmly in force…the Act of Union is the Union”.
The High Court and Court of Appeal have made explicitly clear that the principle of consent (section 1 (1) of the 1998 Act) does not in fact (contrary to the foundational basis of pro Agreement unionism) act as a safeguard against substantive constitutional change vis-à-vis Northern Ireland’s place in the Union.
Instead the Protocol, which subjugates the Act of Union, has exposed the principle of consent as being purely symbolic. It directs itself solely to the final formal handover of sovereignty.
Put simply, you can change everything but the last thing in relation to Northern Ireland’s place in the Union, the last thing being merely the final formal handover of sovereignty, or put another way, the last lowering of the Union flag.
In the Allister et al case the UUP via Steve Aiken (the leader at the time the case was commenced) is an applicant, as was Lord Trimble prior to his death.
The oral and written submissions in the case argue that the principle of consent is a “deceptive snare”, evidenced by the imposition of the Protocol. It was further (correctly) argued on behalf of the applicants that if the principle of consent could not prevent law-making powers over NI being handed to Brussels, nor would it prevent Dublin being permitted to make laws over NI.
It is somewhat extraordinary to think that the UUP are party to a case in which these submissions are being made on behalf of Mr Aiken as an applicant, whilst at the same time Doug Beattie is repeatedly telling the unionist community about the vital safeguards and protections of the Belfast Agreement.
How can these two positions be reconciled?
If you agree with Lord Trimble and the others in the pro Agreement unionist camp in 1998 and thereafter that the core basis upon which pro Agreement unionism is based is the principle of consent; and you also agree that the applicants in Allister et al (including Steve Aiken and, prior to his death, Lord Trimble) are right that the Protocol has exposed the principle of consent as a “deceptive snare”; then upon what basis can you credibly continue to extol the virtues of an Agreement, which is based upon that fundamental deception?
That is a question Doug Beattie seemingly can’t bring himself to answer. I suspect that is because if he did answer it with any intellectual honesty, it would lead to the logical conclusion that no self-respecting unionist could continue to champion the Belfast Agreement.
However, Mr Beattie has been clear that he would never collapse the institutions of the Belfast Agreement. This is despite it being made crystal clear by Justice Colton in Rooney and JR181 (3) that the price of being in the Executive was a legal obligation to implement the Protocol, and thus the subjugation of the Union.
Is there any price too high for the UUP to pay in order to preserve the institutions? What about all-Ireland policing, or law-making from Dublin: would the UUP still cling to the institutions?
And if they do have a line they would not cross, what is it?
How far would be too far for the UUP?
Again, Mr Beattie appears unable to grapple with this point. He demands unionism return to the Executive (dismissing those who have taken a principled stand as “whining like little girls”) but is unable to follow his own position to its logical conclusion and admit that his position is that he would implement the Protocol.
We have heard some muddled suggestions from the UUP that there could be talks to resolve the Protocol “in parallel” to restoring the Executive. They have not however said whether they would put a time-limit on these talks, and if there was no satisfactory outcome which restores NI’s place in the Union, whether they would at that point collapse the Executive.
If they say there would be a time-limit, then how long would it be?
If they say if there was no resolution by the end of that time-limit, they would then withdraw from the Executive, then surely their opposition to the DUP’s withdrawal is exposed as being purely an effort to distinguish themselves (for political gain) from the rest of unionism?
If they say they would never collapse the Executive, then negotiations or an unsatisfactory outcome could continue forever, and the UUP would continue to implement and embed the subjugation of the Union.
It should be remembered that in 2015 the UUP (correctly) under the leadership of Mike Nesbitt walked out of the Executive over the IRA’s murder of two men, and Sinn Fein’s continued links to that terrorist organisation. Why was it legitimate to walk out of Government for that purpose, but it is illegitimate to walk out over unionists being expected to implement the subjugation of the Union?
In recent weeks we also heard from Mr Beattie, and swiftly thereafter Mr Nesbitt, as to how the Protocol wasn’t a constitutional threat (but Mr Beattie then u-turned and said it was, but only in the future). The Protocol has already led to the subjugation of the Act of Union, and Northern Ireland being treated as the entry point into (and thus part of) EU territory. The rest of the United Kingdom is, as a matter of law, treated as a foreign country.
Mr Justice Colton has ruled that due to the Protocol “the UK is no longer a unitary state”.
Despite all this, Mr Beattie still appears somewhat muddled and unsure as to the constitutional impact of the Protocol. This follows his April 2022 contribution in which he made clear on Nolan that the Act of Union (described by Lord Trimble as the Union) was not a red line.
I hope Mr Beattie will actually direct his mind to (finally) engaging with the merits of the points which have been raised. Thus far, his engagement with the issues has amounted to jibes, cliches, buzzwords and slogans. At no point has he displayed a capacity to tackle the argument made against his position.
In order to distil matters clearly and succinctly; in this article I have advanced the following propositions. I invite Doug Beattie to dismantle them and demonstrate why it is his vision for unionism which should prevail:
 The principle of consent is a deceptive snare because it does not do what pro Agreement unionism were led to believe (and in turn led the unionist electorate to believe) it did. Put simply, it does not protect the substance of NI’s place in the Union, but merely directs itself to the severing of the last tie of sovereignty. That being so, the fundamental basis for pro Agreement unionism has been exposed as a fraud, and therefore no self-respecting unionist can continue to support that Agreement.
 Lord Trimble was correct to say that “the Act of Union is the Union”, and accordingly the subjugation of the Act of Union amounts to fundamental constitutional change. This constitutional damage is not a theoretical future prospect, but has already been inflicted by the Protocol. The restoration of the Act of Union must be a fundamental red line for every unionist.
 No self-respecting unionist can serve in an Executive- for any amount of time- which obliges its Ministers to implement the subjugation of the Union.
I look forward to Mr Beattie grappling with the above propositions, and explaining why they are incorrect and/or without merit.