By Jamie Bryson
The imbalance has always been inherent within the Belfast Agreement. How could it not be? It is at its core a ‘process’ whereby Northern Ireland is to be incrementally eased out of the United Kingdom ‘piece by peace’. Therefore the inherent imbalance is necessary to ensure the ‘process’ continues along its pre determined all-Ireland trajectory.
The Protocol has simply illuminated the imbalance and thus acted as a recruiting sergeant for anti-agreement unionism. Those of us warning about the evils of the Belfast Agreement were for many years (not least post 2007) dismissed as extremists, ‘fringe’ elements and derided as being a minority within unionism. We were mocked, laughed at, and derided. But they aren’t laughing now.
A tidal wave of anti-agreement sentiment has swept within unionism, even amongst those who were among the most ardent supporters of the Belfast Agreement. Campaigning for fundamental reform or outright tearing up of the Belfast Agreement was once heresy. It is now a mainstream view within unionism.
That is the legacy of many years of ideologically committed anti-agreement unionists campaigning, writing and building the intellectual capital and evidence base to create the fertile ground from which unionism’s present anti-agreement sentiment grows.
There is, of course, almost a disbelief amongst the opinion-forming professions (media, academia, law), which have been ‘greened’ and weaponised by nationalist activism from within, that unionism is revolting against their precious Belfast Agreement. In the echo chamber of the nationalist network and self-appointed liberal elite they hear no such views, and so from their perspective, there are no such credible views.
They are solidified in this view by a quick scroll through the twitter bubble. Here their mistake is to believe that the strongly pro-nationalist world of twitter, skewed in any event by the Sinn Fein orchestrated army of trolls (Shinnerbots), is reflective of society. It is not.
In the same way as the metropolitan elite, the media establishment, the twitterati and the intellectual class completely failed to see Brexit coming, so too in Northern Ireland does the ‘peace process establishment’ fail to see the tidal wave about to sweep over the Belfast Agreement and the institutions which flow from it.
After more than two decades of the incremental weakening of the substance of the Union, the culture war against every aspect of PUL culture and tradition, the legacy ‘lawfare’ designed to rewrite the past, the ‘greening’ of all opinion-forming institutions, two-tier policing, the criminalisation of our brave veterans and worst of all, the imposition of the Union-subjugating Protocol which seeks to place Northern Ireland under the jackboot of an economic United Ireland- finally unionism is collectively saying enough is enough.
The momentum against the Agreement and the continuation of the institutions is now unstoppable. Even if they wanted to (and I doubt they do as unionists themselves who have been under the oppression of the ‘process’ for more than two decades), the DUP couldn’t turn the tide.
There is no longer unionist consent for the Agreement, and whilst the Protocol is the straw that broke the camels back, it has opened Pandora’s box.
It is not now enough to fix the Protocol (and the only ‘fix’ is its complete obliteration)- the whole Belfast Agreement must be rebalanced, and that means there must be a fundamental renegotiation of its terms- not least in relation to ensuring the principle of consent acts as a protection for the Union in substance rather than merely symbolism.
In the absence of such fundamental change, there can be no return to the status quo.
At the start of January UVPS brought legal action against DAERA seeking to require them, as a matter of law, to seek Executive authority for the continuation of the Union-subjugating Protocol. The purpose was always to force the Protocol implementation to a position whereby unionism could wield a veto and cause it maximum damage.
This legal action was mocked as a ‘stunt’ by the infantile SDLP, laughed at by Sinn Fein, whilst Alliance- as ever- were working so hard balancing on the fence they’ve ended up with splinters.
We are seemingly days, if not hours, away from that legal action leading to an order to halt Protocol checks on GB-NI goods. I wonder who will be laughing then? At that point, it would be worth paying a pound for Colum Eastwood’s analysis.
In addition, once that order is issued, it is hard to see- save for a dramatic last minute triggering of Article 16- how the Executive survives beyond this time next week, however that’s probably even too optimistic.
Given the tidal wave of unionist opposition to the Agreement, and thus the institutions, the DUP really now have very little choice but to resign the First Minister. It should be noted that even the most ardent anti-agreement unionists (such as myself) are not arguing for the resignation of Ministers prior to the election, rather simply a collapsing of the Executive.
Once the First Minister resigns, the Executive falls. However, other unionist Ministers remain in place until the election. If unionist Ministers were to resign along with the First Minister, then their positions would be filled by nationalists who would then have a free hand to not only seize control of the Ports and unshackle the Protocol, but to generally act in their own interests without any unionist counterbalance.
It is for this reason a unionist Praetorian guard must be left in place until the election.
We are into the final days or maybe even hours of the ‘process’. After more than two decades, unionism has finally set its face against it. And not a moment too soon.