The DUP and the good knight Jeffrey find themselves in an increasingly unhappy position. Correction: they have placed themselves in an unhappy position.
The good knight Jeffrey, in an attempt to convince the public that he’s nobody’s fool, has declared he will judge the Tory government not by what it says but what it does. This sounds very simple and sensible, since the last time the DUP trusted the Tories was when Boris Johnson vowed he’d not have a border in the Irish Sea, and that any paperwork required when trading between Britain and our wee stateen should be torn up and tossed in the wastebasket. His words were a blustering attempt to lie his way out of the facts.
The fact is, however, that it’s a long way to Tipperary and it’s an even longer way from drafting legislation to putting it in place as law. According to the Mail online, the House of Lords may well resist anti-protocol legislation and some Tory rebels have already vowed they’d oppose it. The Mail talks about a year before legislation would be passed.
There you have it. The DUP, if it keeps true to its vow, will not return to the Executive until some twelve months from now. Think what the economy and health service of NEI might look like after a year of no government.
However, it’s important to keep in mind the DUP’s declared reason for resisting the protocol is that it’s damaging NEI’s economy. But Is it really?
According to Rory Carroll writing in The Guardian, the short answer is No. “A growing body of evidence suggests Northern Ireland has adapted and started to profit from its new situation, with the benefits of full access to the EU single market and the rest of the UK outweighing the costs of administering checks on some goods entering the region from Great Britain.”
Stephen Kelly is head of Manufacturing Northern Ireland (MNI) and he says talk of the protocol being immensely damaging to trade here is “bunkum”. He is clear: “Every piece of evidence presented so far shows a positive impact.” He notes that the annual cost of administering protocol-related checks is £200million. Place this against the £1 billion extra trade with the Republic, plus the extra trade with other EU countries which hasn’t even been factored in yet, and you see why the head of ManufacturingNI chooses his words carefully when he says “Bunkum”.
You’ll notice that the good knight Jeffrey has for the most part argued that the protocol is economically bad for NEI. Which as we’ve seen is not so. That crutch kicked away, he could now switch to emphasise the effect the protocol is likely to have on the northern population in terms of the constitutional question.
Will he? Could he abandon his knuckle-head economic argument and prioritise the protocol’s threat to NEI as a constituent part of the UK? He could, except he’ll then ensure that people favouring a border poll will become louder in their demands. Only last night a Fine Gael TD (yes ,Virginia, a Blueshirt indeed) has called on his own government to set up an Oireachtas committee on Irish unity ahead of a potential border poll: “Brexit has fundamentally changed the debate when it comes to Irish unity.”
The good knight Jeffrey must by now feel as though he is being politically hanged, drawn and quartered, which as you probably know, involves hanging the victim but taking him from the gallows while still alive, removing his entrails and genitals (‘drawn’), cutting his head off and then hacking his torso into four quarters.
It’s a rough old business, politics.