Today is one of the saddest days in the history of the province. Unionists will return to Stormont, as servants of Sinn Fein, to implement an Irish Sea border. That is the inescapable truth.
Peter Robinson, in his contribution to the DUP’s propaganda offensive, said two things were true: firstly, that there had been progress made by the recent deal, and secondly that we have “not reached the promised land…there is more to do”.
Based upon these two ‘facts’, Mr Robinson urges a strategic direction of now returning to Stormont and seeking to use it as a vehicle for more change.
The ‘promised land’, in so far as it reflects the core objective of unionism, is the removal of the Irish Sea border. Therefore, it seems to me, Peter Robinson must accept that the Irish Sea border remains; if it did not, we would have already reached the ‘promised land’.
If that indeed is what can be deduced from his analysis (and I note Mr Robinson studiously avoided repeating some of the more outlandish claims about what the deal achieves) then it is a more intellectually honest assessment than that which has formed the centre-piece of the DUP’s propaganda blitz over the past week.
I don’t agree with the case (for reasons I have already set out) which he makes that unionism should return to Stormont and work from there to reach the final objective, but I recognise the merit in it, and can see why many would find it persuasive.
If this had been the honest approach taken by the DUP leadership, then perhaps the raw feeling of betrayal felt by a great many (but not all) in unionism/loyalism would have been lessened.
However, that is not the approach which has been taken. Instead, in a propaganda blitz which has been at times Orwellian, the DUP leadership has repeatedly claimed black is white, even when faced with incontrovertible evidence debunking their claims, they have simply kept repeating them, as if repetition can turn a mistruth to a truth.
As Sam McBride puts it in today’s Newsletter: they have engaged in “Trumpian politics” and, he observes, “for Jeffrey Donaldson to claim he has swept away the Irish Sea border is as patently absurd as Trump claiming he won the US election”. He describes the “scale and speed” of his U-turn as “dramatic”.
The extraordinary campaign of deception reached worrying levels when, with a flick of the wrist- and a bit of an angry rant- Sir Jeffrey dismissed the reasoned legal opinion- uncontradicted by anyone, and indeed supported by a range of other legal experts across the UK- of NI’s former Attorney General John Larkin KC.
Mr Larkin had emphatically, based on reasoned argument supported by clear legal authority, patiently explained why the Irish Sea border remained firmly in place (even for GB-NI goods staying in NI), that the claim as to the restoration of the Acts of Union was completely at odds with the clear legal position of the courts up to and including the Supreme Court, and that contrary to Sir Jeffrey’s repeated claim: the deal did not, even if the non-legally binding command paper followed through on many of its boldest promises- did not provide for “zero checks and zero customs paperwork” for goods staying in NI.
This is the reality, and it seems harmful- in the long term- for the leader of unionism to engage in such an extraordinary campaign of spin in an effort to mislead the entire unionist base. Again, as Sam McBride observes “in many ways, the greatest threat to the deal is the DUP misinformation about it. People might accept they’ve partly lost, but they wont like to be told they’ve won only to later find out that’s wrong”.
We are back to the twilight zone of January 2021 when Brandon Lewis, then Secretary of State for NI, said “there is no Irish Sea border”, Sir Jeffrey himself said the Irish Sea border “was not a constitutional issue” and claimed it presented “opportunities”. This was repeated by Arlene Foster, then First Minister, who said it was “done” and that unionism must accept it and embrace the “opportunities”.
The DUP even built border posts, forever now known as the ‘Poots Posts’, named after the Minister who built them. If some reports are true, it was Edwin Poots who ‘flipped’ at the final hurdle, in order to give Sir Jeffrey a majority in his party officers to be able to push on.
If five of your own party officers, and 50% of your MPs, and a healthy number of your own MLAs oppose your deal and say it doesn’t remove the Irish Sea border, why should the rest of unionism and loyalism accept your word as true?
And it is worth remembering how this deal was pushed through. The party officers were only allowed to look at the command paper in party HQ, and had no opportunity to take it home and study its detail (and, in any event, a command paper is basically the seller of the deal, telling everyone how amazing their product is).
The MLAs and MPs didn’t even get to see the command paper. The same goes for the Party Executive. The DUP leadership instead relied on a power-point presentation delivered by Sir Jeffrey and Gavin Robinson, which allowed them a free hand to be a judge in their own case, passing their verdict, on their deal, without anyone being able to scrutinise their claims.
The DUP Executive voted, in a secret ballot over which no one is allowed to know the result, to endorse a deal they had not seen. This is really rather extraordinary when you stop and think about it.
Sir Jeffrey, with the claims he has made, has marched those who will follow him down from the hill upon which we all stood, and instead up another one. In a few short days or at best weeks, those who have believed that which they have been told and have followed the DUP leadership on this course, will very soon be looking out from the new hilltop, and seeing an Irish Sea border in full flow- and realise that the very people who they were led to believe had removed it, are in fact implementing and embedding it.
There are a few incontrovertible facts: the Irish Sea border remains firmly in place; Unionists whose party enters the Executive today are responsible for enabling and implementing the Irish Sea border; and the acceptance of that- even in a state of confused denial- will have the consequence of embedding that very Irish Sea border which- at one time- every unionist agreed fundamentally fractured our place in the Union.
The unionist MLAs today in the DUP and UUP who lend their name to that, will forever carry the burden of having done so. They cannot say they did not know, they cannot pretend to have been confused. Instead, they have chosen to close their eyes to the truth, and- with varying degrees of confidence- proclaim black is white.
This is their day, their moment. Unionist Ministers will receive their increased salary, their Ministerial cars and shall be lavished with insincere praise by all those who are very pleased unionism has returned- all be it with a patriotic rebranding of the Protocol- to implement that which they all wished unionism would have just accepted in January 2021.
I am very glad I am on the other side in this instance. I, and others like Jim Allister, Kate Hoey, Ben Habib, Nigel Dodds, Sammy Wilson, Paul Girvan, Ian Paisley, Diane Dodds, Michelle McElveen and Carla Lockhart- have made our protest. We have, in the footnotes, recorded our objections and called this out for what it is.
The responsibility for the consequences to the Union rests solely with those who have promoted and endorsed this deal. When, in days and weeks to come, it becomes apparent it has all been a deception and a con-trick, then people will know who is to blame.
It has often been said the greatest trick the devil ever pulled, was convincing the world he didn’t exist. So too is it with the Irish Sea border.
I will continue exposing this deception, in every way in which I can. I am very sure many others will do likewise. We are, I believe, a very large number of people in the unionist/loyalist community. And, in time, as with the campaign against the Protocol, our number will swell once it becomes clear that what people have been told, is simply untrue.
And so, I wish all unionist MLAs the very best. There many who are, or at least were, my friends. Each person has made their own choice and taken their own course. It is for each person to close their own eyes at night and carry their actions on their own conscience.
‘For what so shall it profit a man (or woman), to gain the whole world, but lose his/her own soul’.