By Jamie Bryson
It was welcome Sir Jeffrey Donaldson took the time to respond in detail to the UVPS letter. The central issues which he focuses on are unobjectionable.
UVPS as a grouping have responded, reflecting the consensus response of the organisation which is that it looks forward to the important commitments being upheld.
Given much of the media commentary has nevertheless focused on my contribution, it was more appropriate to respond personally in greater detail.
The DUP have a huge mandate, and Sir Jeffrey is the leader of that party.
That mandate is on the basis of their seven key tests, and core commitments. It is worth remembering that prior to that, they had 13% in the polls. No one wants to see the largest unionist party slump to that position again.
The position of the DUP, and Sir Jeffrey in particular, has been commendable since they took the correct decision to collapse Stormont.
This, of course, was the strategy advocated by some of us since 2019 when the ‘backstop’ was being cooked up. Writing in my book Brexit Betrayed in January 2021, this strategy was again advocated. A DUP spokesperson described it as “a foolish idea”.
It was a matter of profound concern that whilst many across grassroots unionism/loyalism were pointing out the constitutional incompatibility of the Protocol, others were talking about ‘opportunities’ and claiming the Protocol had no constitutional implications.
However crucially, the DUP adopted a stronger approach and it is to their credit, and that of Sir Jeffrey, they have secured large mandates for this stance and remained firm in face of external pressure.
There has been much focus on speculation as to my relationship with Sir Jeffrey. I have repeatedly and consistently made clear (as recently as two weeks ago on Nolan) that this engagement is simply the same as between any other politician and those in their community. I am not a member of the DUP and as such do not have, and have never had, any role or involvement in their internal decision making. This can’t be repeated often enough.
Alongside the strong stand in collapsing power sharing, it was also of note the stand taken by Edwin Poots in seeking to halt checks by all legal means available to him, following a legal challenge brought by UPVS which the Minister correctly conceded.
There are some suggesting Sir Jeffrey’s letter represents an effort by some in the DUP to fly the kite of climbing down on fundamental commitments. I do not read it that way, particularly as the letter makes clear the party is absolutely united, and in recent weeks it has been welcome to see the position set out so clearly by both Lord Dodds and Sammy Wilson who were clear the Framework needs replaced and EU law must end.
That being said, it isn’t hard to see how someone could easily conclude the letter was a shift in policy given what appears to be a somewhat altered position on the seventh test (the principle of consent), but this has to be set against the very clear articulation of this policy set out on this website by Sir Jeffrey himself: his excellent contribution on that issue can be read here:
The absence of mentioning the seven tests, the most fundamental of which is the Acts of Union (which is mentioned in his letter as a core issue- albeit it is constructed a bit back back to front) perhaps simply represents the letter focusing on other issues. The DUP have set their position out on these issues repeatedly and made very clear commitments- including on EU law.
It would be absurd to think that the party- who have a mandate based upon those tests- would be now trying to escape from those commitments. Why risk an internal unionist civil war by stealing Doug Beattie’s clothes?
If, however, I am wrong about that and indeed some within the DUP are cooking up a surrender (albeit marching triumphantly in defeat for the gullible) then Sir Jeffrey will, I am sure, in due course expand upon his arguments for doing so and take his case to the electorate.
Naturally, if that were to happen, then all those who remain faithful to the collective unionist position of strength not weakness would be entitled to peacefully and lawfully protest to have their voices heard. That too is unobjectionable in any democracy.
In the letter to unionist leaders, the arguments were set out. I stand over them and will happily argue them in any room, from any platform or in any studio.
If others (and I do not mean Sir Jeffrey- I refer to others) want to challenge those arguments and positions, then they should do so head on and with intellectual honesty, rather than trying to construct a slippery way around having to accept the consequences of their own positions.
Leaving aside all the ‘noise’, the DUP continue- at present- to stand firm. They have done so despite being under an unprecedented siege. That has taken courage and strength, and according to all polls and indeed their mandate, they have the support of the unionist electorate for their present position.
It would have been easier to adopt a UUP type approach and capitulate, seeking the praise of the liberal elite commemtariate and nationalism. Had he wanted to be, Sir Jeffrey could have been more popular with nationalists than unionists, and be lauded on Twitter for being so. He chose a different path, and one hopes he continues to stand firm.
Strong unionism has united behind the DUP and TUV. There has been unprecedented strength of unity. Why, in the words of Lord Carson, would anyone consider selling their friends to conciliate with their enemies?
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is the leader of unionism. He holds the key to maintaining such unity, and I have no doubt he will strive to do so consistent with the DUP’s commitment.
Finally, there are some trying to ignite some kind of personalised dispute between myself and Sir Jeffrey. That is not going to happen. It is perfectly legitimate for persons to disagree politically on issues of importance, but remain on good terms. That is emphatically the case in this instance.