It does appear we are approaching a defining moment whereby all unionists will face a choice between surrender, or standing firm on the most fundamental of constitutional principles.
In a previous such period of time, in 1985 when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was being foisted upon Northern Ireland, the late Harold McCusker MP delivered one of unionism’s greatest ever speeches (which incidentally I have part of on my wall in my house), and he said:
“I shall carry to my grave with ignominy the sense of injustice that I have done to my constituents down the years- when, in their darkest hours, I exhorted them to put their trust in this British House of Commons which one day would honour its fundamental obligation to them, to treat them as equal British citizens.”
Harold McCusker MP in that tour-de-force speech recognised the injustice in what was done to the unionist people of Northern Ireland by the Government, but what greater injustice would be done, if today’s unionist leaders were to themselves urge upon the British citizens of Northern Ireland to not only meekly accept, but to in fact collaborate in implementing the subjugation of the Union and destruction of the fundamental constitutional organ: equal citizenship.
We cast further back, to the most important document- the Ulster Covenant. It included this commitment: “…do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant throughout this our time of threatened calamity to stand by one another in defending for ourselves and our children our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, using all means which may be found necessary”.
Let us be in no doubt, the Protocol Framework eradicates the concept of equal citizenship. That fundamental constitutional right in relation to trade, found in Article 6 of the Acts of Union, has been subjugated and suspended. In relation to citizenship rights more broadly, as we have seen with the Rwanda Bill, Northern Ireland is separated from the rest of the United Kingdom and instead bound up more with the Irish Republic than our own country.
These issues, certainly in relation to trade, are central to the ‘seven key tests’ upon which the DUP’s mandate rests. They aren’t the DUP’s tests, they are the people’s tests. They belong to every single person who cast their democratic vote on the basis of the clear and unequivocal promise that there would be no return to power sharing unless those tests were met.
If there were to be a return with the tests abandoned, then there is no mandate for such a surrender. The DUP have been sent by the unionist people with a mandate to secure an outcome which meets the seven tests; on what basis does anyone have the right to conclude a deal which fails to achieve that?
The central test is restoring Article 6 of the Acts of Union, and flowing from that are the two fundamental issues which can’t be fudged, smudged or hollowed out: those trading within the UK internal market cannot be subject to EU law, and those trading within the UK internal market- and staying there or going to a non-EU country- must be subject by default to UK law, with no fetters on trade.
That means the green lane must be removed. Where else in the world would a citizen of a sovereign country have to be ‘authorised’, based on the diktats of a foreign power, to be permitted to trade ‘freely’ within ones own country?
And that, in turn, means the Windsor Framework must be fundamentally altered (removing the customs requirements and authorisation process- Articles 7-10 of the Joint Committee decision 01/23).
But the most fundamental issue is that the Acts of Union cannot be restored without dealing with section 7A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It prevails over every other law, past and future, and therefore any legislation which failed to confront that would be wholly impotent and subject to section 7A. What then would be the point?
It is right and proper the DUP have been clear the financial negotiations are separate, because all the money in the world ought not to be enough to purchase the very soul of the Union. For what so shall it profit a man, to gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?
Or, put more crudely, cash before the Sash.
In 1912, Parliament tried to put upon the loyal British people a Home Rule bill, eradicating equal citizenship, and Sir Edward Carson raised an army.
A few short years later, when King and Country called, in the Great War brave Ulstermen charged over the battlefields, flying the old red hand of Ulster alongside the Union flag, and some wearing their Sash covered in the blood of their sacrifice.
If those who have gone before could charge over the top at the Somme, giving their lives under the Union flag, surely today we- as unionists- can stand firm and refuse to go up the hill to Stormont waving a white flag.
Promises have been made, and promises ought to be kept. I hope the DUP, as the democratically elected leaders of unionism- with the mandate based on seven tests- stand firm. Unionism and loyalism stands firmly behind them.
Surely now is not the time to say we have come this far, to only come this far?
I finish with the words of Lord Carson:
“…and of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome, it is those who would sell their friends for the purpose of conciliating their enemies”.