Earlier this week Sammy Wilson was being interviewed on Talk Radio, where he was energetically denouncing “some MPs” for their arrogance in thinking they know better than the public about Brexit. Can this be the same Sammy or the same Democratic Unionist Party that told the Ulster Farmers’ Union and the business people of our dear little sweet little corner of Ireland that they were wrong to imagine Theresa May’s withdrawal plan might be a desirable thing, in that it might save them from being dashed to a thousand pieces on the economic rocks two and a half months from now?
Although, on second thoughts…maybe Sammy’s source of monthly income could be in peril too. You can be fairly sure he and the DUP won’t have won over many votes for their party by insisting that their erstwhile followers literally don’t understand their own business.
The relevant fact is, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has a goodly number of DUP supporters, and up to recently they were holding their collective tongues. At least in public. I talked to some nationalists in the border area who told me UFU members were quietly giving them a thumbs-up for their agitation against the perils of Brexit. But a point came when the bottled-up concern of UFU and the business people in the north popped its cork. DUP supporters or no DUP supporters, they were no longer going to risk the pain of a hard Brexit, if that could be softened even a bit with Theresa May’s deal.
Given that the livelihood of those in the UFU and in the business community depend on their making the right calls, wouldn’t it be fair to say that Sammy showed a bit of arrogance himself? After all, his livelihood isn’t at stake, it’s theirs.
And yes, there are people who would go on voting for the DUP even if that party broke into their houses and took a sledge-hammer to the family china, just as there are some people who would still support Trump even if he went out and shot someone on Fifth Avenue. But if there’s one thing most unionist farmers and businessmen are known for, it’s their hard-headed awareness that money makes the mare go. If Sammy or anybody else hobbles the mare or exchanges her for a bucking bronco, they’re not going to be best pleased – to such an extent that they might stop bothering to come out and vote for Sammy and his friends.
In fact, not only might these insulted people stop voting for the DUP: they might go one step further and think the unthinkable: is being in the UK a good idea after all? Yes, I know Arlene is reported as saying that she’s been hearing talk about a united Ireland all her life. She probably has. But this time it’s different.
This time there are at least three factors in the mix which could prove to be dangerously combustible, from a unionist vantage point.
The first is, as I say, the pound in the farmer and the business person’s pocket. You’d be surprised how the appearance on the horizon of a mortgage repayment or a grocery bill or a damaged exchange rate can alter habitual thinking.
The second is the demographic factor. Our dear little sweet little corner of Ireland was created to house a permanent Protestant/unionist majority. One single nervous glance will tell anyone, regardless of their political persuasion, that the demographics here are at tipping point. The 2021 census will almost certainly show a majority of Catholics/nationalists in our little stateen. And don’t say that’s not important, Arlene. Your forefathers went to a lot of bother to create a border where Catholics/nationalist were NOT a majority in the north-east state. If by some miracle they could peep at the present figures, they’d groaning in their graves.
The third, and for a unionist perhaps the most depressing thing of all, is that a hard Brexit is calculated to send a juddering shock through the UK. A shock that could well induce a creaking and fraying and possibly snapping of long-strong ties between the UK’s constituent parts. How many unionists will continue in favour of staying in the UK if the UK has begun to fracture?
With the passage of every day, the law of unintended consequences is becoming writ larger and larger on the wall. When and if Sammy comes to read what is written there, he may feel as though a military-grade boot has been applied to his tender backside.