Deep in the guts of the last century, I used to go watching-fishing with my big brother: he fished, I watched. It was peaceful, mind-calming until he got a bite. Then as I watched the thrashing trout being pulled to shore with a hook stuck through its lower lip, I felt for that poor trout. I had no particular affection for it but I still felt for it.
Today, I feel something similar for the DUP. They’ve managed to play a political game so clever that they appear to have impaled themselves on a hook from which they simply must release themselves. Otherwise they’re grilled trout.
When the Brexit referendum was called, the DUP decided to wear a Brexiteer sash. Not everyone in the party agreed with the decision (hello, Simon Hamilton), but enough thought it’d be a good idea to present themselves as fully behind an unshackled UK, sailing off into independence and a bright new tomorrow. It was a stirring image. Only then, out of nowhere, disaster: the Brexiteers won the referendum. Whoaa . Not even the smartest DUPer saw that one coming.
But in for a penny, in for a euro. If Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage could prattle about the need to see the UK proud and independent, the DUP must show similar enthusiasm.
Then things kept getting trickier and trickier. Theresa May looked like she was going for a deal that’d leave The Province out in the cold, separated from the rest of the UK. This could not stand, even if it was to the economic advantage of NI. So they jerked on Theresa May’s choke-lead until she started spouting nonsense, to wit, that our Dear Northern Nest would be treated exactly as the rest of the UK, while at the same time there’d be no hard border in Ireland. It was a crazy, self-contradictory claim and soon perished on the ERG rocks.
Having driven Theresa May to her political death, the DUP then spat on their hands and took on Boris. The new PM told everyone to cheer up, told the DUP they could be jolly sure he was a unionist, and long live the mighty UK including its off-shore bit. Having reassured Nigel, Sammy and Co, Boris came up with a plan that was half-full and half-empty. The half-full bit was that the North would come out of the custom’s union, along with the rest of the UK. The half-empty bit was that the North would remain in the single market, unlike the rest of the UK. At this point the DUP felt a sharp jagged pain in its collective lower lip. This was bad – Boris was going to have a border in the Irish Sea after all. But the alternative – which Boris seemed scarily intent on – was a crash-out. No deal. Eeek.
The worst part about this no-deal vista was that all of the DUP’s traditional supporters in business and farming were yelling very loudly that a no-deal would be a train-wreck. Armageddon. Thousands would go out of business and the North’s economy would have been nuked.
Their lower lip throbbing with pain, the DUP did a quick huddle and decided they’d agree to a border in the Irish Sea after all. They could always blame someone else – Dublin, Brussels, Berlin – Boris if necessary.
This was a drastic decision, and so contradictory to their earlier defiant talk, where they had sworn to resist any attempt at creating a border in the Irish Sea, that eyebrows everywhere shot up. But which would be better: to look temporarily foolish, or to have your traditional base pulled from under you? Because even the most loyal followers are likely to desert you, if you’re responsible for killing dozens of their businesses and thousands of their jobs.
But now with this latest Boris U-turn, they’re being asked to agree to a border in the Irish Sea (single market sorted ) and to effectively stay in the customs union, while the rest of the UK takes the door marked Exit.
Nigel Dodds began to look and sound defiant again. A scapegoat must be found. Brows were furrowed, head were scratched, then Sammy shouted “RHI!” and everyone got it immediately. The answer was Arlene.
The RHI report, chances were, would land Arlene deep in the smelly stuff. So what must be done is declare Arlene solely responsible for RHI, dump her as leader, and install in her place that man of destiny, Nigel Dodds.
Odd are the ways of Fate. Sometimes it takes the hook from your mouth and throws you back in the water. And sometimes it doesn’t. “Mr Johnson knows our position” Nigel has declared grimly. We’re back at the do-as-I-say-or-I’ll-shoot-myself stage.