Arlene, Brexit perils and unionist heaven

Note: This article was written before Boris and the EU came up with their definitive agreement that the ‘border’  (actually some extra form-filling) would be at ports or between Britain and our stateen. This agreement has calmed business and farmer fears to some extent, but poses Arlene and Co with a general election full of home-made landmines.

With the obvious exception of Garda Commissioner Drew Nelson OBE  (€200,000+p a ), a policeman’s lot is not a happy one.  But being a copper is  a feather-bed containing seventy-seven virgins when  compared to the lot  of a DUP leader. Ask Arlene Foster. Some years ago, there were republican mutterings about a border poll, which drew from Arlene a tart “Be careful what you wish for.” Alas, those words must be booming and colliding in her brain these days.

While the Shinners have sworn an oath not to swear an oath and enter the Westminster debating chamber, Arlene’s party has always strained every  sinew to put the maximum number of  DUP  bums on the green benches. When the  2017 general election delivered them ten seats, DUP joy was mighty; and when it emerged they held the balance  of power, orgasmic cries could be heard from  Ballymena to East Belfast to loyal Aghohill.

Doing what they do best, Arlene’s MPs went into a huddle with Theresa and emerged waving an extra £1 billion.  In return, the DUP promised a  supply-and-confidence arrangement with the Tories.

Predictably, voices were raised against this Tory-DUP hook-up. Nationalists and republicans in the north  said it made a mockery of the notion that the British government was a neutral arbiters in the North; former NI Secretary Peter Hain said it jeopardized the necessary “non-partisan” stance.” The DUP saw the £ signs and put their fingers in their ears.

But their supply-and-confidence came erratically. In September 2017 they didn’t support their Tory partners  over NHS pay and tuition fees. In December 2018 they allowed the Tories to be found in contempt of parliament.

But the harshest stress-test for their supply-and-confidence promise came when Theresa May returned from Brussels with her withdrawal deal in November 2018. The DUP’s Sammy Wilson stood up in the chamber,  cheeks incandescent with indignation: “Why would a Prime Minister wish to sell a deal to the Commons which keeps us tied to the customs union, which keeps us tied to EU regulations, which doesn’t allow us to break free of those except by the permission of a body outside the United Kingdom?”

Arlene, being a leader, saw it all a month earlier. In October 2018 she told a BBC reporter: “There cannot be a border down the Irish Sea, a differential between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK…Our red line is blood red”. 

But fast forward a year. Poor Theresa, a broken woman,  has been eased off-stage by have-a-go Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who has a  New Plan.  It will involve the North staying in the EU single market but not in the EU customs union. Does  Arlene  bang the table and replay her blood-red lines and demand the removal of that border from the Irish Sea right now?

Um, no. Even though Alexander Boris de Pfeffel’s proposed deal would leave the North stuck in the single market with the proverbial aquatic border in the Irish Sea, Arlene has declared the arrangement  serious and sensible.  And her blood-red lines? No no no, Arlene has explained. This was a voluntary acceptance of differentiation between NI and the rest of the UK, whereas Theresa’s deal would not have been a voluntary acceptance. Still with me?

The Ulster Farmers’ Union, traditionally a bastion of unionism, is jumpy. So too  Manufacturing NI,  Retail NI,  CBI – they’re  all telling Arlene businesses will go bust, jobs will be shed, cows’ udders will swell alarmingly.We’re heading for the cliff.   

Happily for Arlene,  Alexander Boris de Pfeffel’s wheeze won’t in a month of  wet Presbyterian Sabbaths be accepted by the EU. It includes a second border, this time in Ireland.  The EU red line is no border in Ireland – it’ll disrupt trade, it’ll threaten the Good Friday Agreement.   Not only will it create border checkpoints that would be used by dissident republicans for target practice,  it will vaporize hundreds, thousands of jobs. Except the EU does a backward flip similar to Arlene’s,  this latest Tory wheeze won’t fly.

Meanwhile,  BBC Radio Ulster phone-in lines are hot with protesting Protestant unionist voices.  “Back away from this disastrous deal, Arlene!” business and farming organisations cry.  Other unionists, perhaps infected by Arlene’s blood-red rhetoric a year earlier, now say this dastardly deal has put a border between them and the rest of the UK, they’ll never vote DUP again.

Ironically, there are those who claim that in her heart’s core Arlene never really wanted Brexit, but  was  persuaded to campaign for it so she and her party would  look uber-loyal. Only then Arlene’s nightmare became reality and the Brexiteers, against all odds, won. Among those genuinely rejoicing at the result, it is alleged,  was Arlene’s deputy party leader, Nigel Dodds.  Or, as Baroness Paisley once described him, that sod Dodds.

Fate can be cruel with little Fermanagh girls, assailed on every side. But if she becomes weary of the struggle, Arlene knows she can always trade her red lines for a red seat in unionist Heaven: the House of Lords. Waiting to greet her and warming the benches for her will be the bums of Lord Trimble, Lord Bew, Lord Brown of Belmont, Lord Empey, Lord Hay, Lord Kilclooney, Lord McCrea, Lord Morrow, Viscount Brookeborough and Viscount Craigavon.

They’ll have the red carpet out for you, Arlene, embroidered with the Ulster-Scots equivalent of ‘Cead Mile Fáilte’.

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