This blog first appeared as a column in the Andersonstown News
There are two ways you can look at Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, (current) leader of the DUP. You can view him as a politically nimble man, one who holds his nerve and knows when to apply pressure to the British government so that his party will have its way.
The other way of looking at Jeffrey is that he’s a man in a car with both the footbrake and the handbrake suddenly not working. He’s going at speed down a hill, at the bottom of which a solid concrete wall faces him.
Let’s take the first of those. If we’re to believe Sir Jeffrey, the protocol presents NEI with an existential threat. To deal with that threat, Jeffrey has effectively pulled Stormont down. He says he has done so because the protocol will lead to instability. “Unionists do not consent to the protocol. There is no consensus for the protocol”.
Now that he has pulled down Stormont, Jeffrey argues he has opened up the way to an agreement between the UK and the EU “to deliver an agreement that resolves these issues that can be done quickly.”
This is an extremely daring move by Jeffrey. He is asking the UK and the EU to deliver a fresh agreement, one that doesn’t include the pesky protocol. The EU and the UK may say that the protocol is actually a gift, because it allows NEI to trade in the UK and in the GB market. If there are delays or excessive forms to be filled in, then let’s stream-line these, smooth out difficulties.
But Jeffrey claims that the protocol is not smooth-outable. He’s had to make this big opportunity for “the UK government and the EU to step up to the mark and to deliver an agreement that resolves these issues.” Far from being destructive, Jeffrey argues that he’s providing elbow room for the Uk and the EU – in fact “an opportunity for the UK government and the EU to step up to the mark and to deliver an agreement that resolves these issues.”
This is Jeffrey the Fixer, giving the misguided UK and the EU a chance to think again.
But look at the second alternative, where Jeffrey and NEI are in a car which is hurtling down-hill and which, will end, if nothing is done, in a total wreck. The driver – in this case Jeffrey – will very possibly be a fatality as the car impacts the wall.
With this in mind, Jeffrey has decided it’s better to come to a halt now. Since he has no brakes, the only thing he can do is swerve to the left, into the stout wooden fence bordering the road. This will doubtless result in injuries, but you’ve a better chance of survival now, in a high-impact collision with a wooden fence, than further down the road -say, to the beginning of May – when you’ll have no cards to play and you’ll look like a lamb (to vary the metaphor) being driven to meet its fate.