Trying out unionist shoes

OK – putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, especially if that someone else is not quite your best mate, can be hard. Different folks, different feet. But sometimes the hard thing can be the good thing. So let’s put ourselves in a unionist politician’s shoes and look at the dreaded Protocol.

Tying up the laces of my unionist shoes, what is my problem with the Protocol? Well, it interferes with the trade of, among other things, cancer medicines and potted plants coming here from Britain. Then there’s the sale of second-hand cars, free movement for guide dogs, and pedigree livestock. 

Then there’s the European Court of Justice’s oversight of the NI Protocol. We unionists aren’t represented in Europe, yet Europe can make Court of Justice decisions about us.

OK, let me take off these shoes and slip into the brogues of a nationalist/republican business person.

In the first six months of 2021, exports from the south of Ireland to the north were up 43% compared to a year ago. Exports from the north to the south are up 78%. So while Britain may have some problems with trade to the North due to the protocol, the upside of all that is the massively increased trade from the south of Ireland to the north and vice versa.

OK, time for another walk in unionist shoes.

As a unionist, I have a confession to make. It’s not really trade and business that bothers me. It’s like Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: first they get more unified trade throughout the island of Ireland, then they go for political integration throughout the island. The south want to absorb us. That’s the part which really worries us.

Change shoes.

OK, as a nationalist/republican, could I remind you that the Protocol was something that the British government helped construct and signed up to? It hasn’t been foisted on Britain or the North or anywhere. It was part of a freely agreed trade deal which your Westminster masters signed up to.  But even more important: an international treaty called the Good Friday Agreement says that there will be no change in the constitutional status of the North except the people of the North – and the South – vote for it. In that sense, it doesn’t matter if trade from Britain is hard or easy, it doesn’t matter if there’s hugely increased North-South trade – none of that will alter NEI’s constitutional status. Only a formal vote, with both North and South agreeing to it, can effect constitutional change, aka a united Ireland.

OK – let me take these clogs off and stand in my bare feet, and do a brief glance back into history. In the early nineteenth century, there wasn’t a Germany – there was just a number of independent states. Then the Zollverein was established – a customs union between these  German states. Then in 1871, Germany became a country. First an economic union, then a political union.

Second lesson from history: when the EEC was established in 1957, it was the European Economic Community (EEC). The key is in the middle word: it was an economic coming together of states.  Then in 1993, the EEC became the EU – the European Union.  Since which time those at the centre of that Union make no bones about striving for closer and closer integration of EU states – aka a super-state.

So Jeffrey may be on to something about the economic integration of Ireland serving as the foundations for a political integration of Ireland.

But two things need to be kept in mind. One, it was due to the machinations of the DUP that Brexit was voted for and that the Withdrawal Agreement containing the protocol came into being. So if it’s a dog’s mess, it’s a dog’s mess which the DUP was key in creating. If they didn’t want to end up where they currently are, why did they campaign for Brexit in the first place?

And two, it’s the majority of voters who will decide the future of NEI (North-Eastern Ireland, Virginia – try to keep up , would you?), not the majority of unionists in NEI.

So yes, democracy can be a right pain and throw up results you’d rather not have. But as it was put by that hero of Boris Johnson and of many unionists, democracy is the worst system of government in existence, except for all the rest.

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