Owen Polley: trade unionists must stand united against scandalous Northern Ireland protocol

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Jeffrey Donaldson, Billy Hutchinson, Doug Beattie, Jim Allister at Stormont for their joint statement against the Northern Ireland Protocol. Despite all their differences, the DUP, PUP, UUP and TUV can and should jointly oppose a constitutional threat.

It was a sensible and appropriate initiative. There are serious differences of opinion between the DUP, UUP, TUV and PUP regarding political, economic and social issues, but there is no reason that they cannot come together to unite. oppose a blatant threat to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland.

Unionism is meant to strengthen and promote our place in the UK, regardless of disagreements over day-to-day politics.

The shameful protocol is arguably the biggest blow to the Union since at least the Anglo-Irish agreement. But, arguably, the Home Rule crisis of 1912-1914 was the last time that British trade union rights and freedoms were challenged so seriously.

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The original pact demanded the protection of our “cherished position of equal citizenship in the UK” after the Liberal government attempted to impose an all-Irish parliament on trade unionists. It is this ideal of “equal citizenship” that is again under attack, as the protocol places Northern Ireland on a different political and economic base from the rest of the country.

Just days before the Declaration, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson warned that Sinn Fein could lead the ballot in the next parliamentary elections if the union vote splits up. He spoke of working with the UUP and TUV to “fire as many pro-Union and anti-Protocol MPs as possible”. Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie responded by saying “there will be no pacts” between the UUP and other trade unionists.

You can understand his defensive attitude. Since the St Andrews Accord of 2006, when the law was changed so that the biggest party, rather than the biggest designation, took the post of prime minister in Stormont, the DUP has fended off possible opposition by raising the specter of a Sinn Fein. Prime Minister.

In this case, however, Donaldson was not demanding a pact. The Northern Ireland Assembly is elected under the proportional single transferable vote system. Unionists can ask their supporters to favor other pro-union candidates with lower-order preferences, so that the votes are shifted between anti-protocol parties. This type of arrangement has been prevalent before and has created little controversy.

It is particularly important to maximize the union vote this time around, for two reasons.

First, if the trade unionists perform badly in the next election, which is due to take place in the spring (unless Stormont collapses first), the nationalists and the Alliance Party will claim that voters approved the maritime border which divides the UK.

Second, if it is still in place by December 2024, which is within the expected duration of the next assembly, MPs will have the right to vote on the renewal or withdrawal of important aspects of the protocol.

Doug Beattie’s party wants to distance itself from the DUP which, according to him, offers “a retrograde, protectionist, power-oriented and self-preserving vision”.

He believes the UUP should become a modern and liberal alternative to Unionist rivals who have struggled to embrace social change. This is a defensible analysis, although it is not in itself a prospectus for better government in Northern Ireland.

The UUP also wants the electorate to blame the DUP for the protocol. This is based on certain claims which are correct and certain assumptions which are not so reasonable.

The DUP certainly did not use its influence in parliament to shape a Brexit-friendly outcome for NI. And, despite the party’s recent attempts to argue otherwise, its then leader described a plan by Boris Johnson, which included a regulatory border between GB and NI but not a customs border, as “a serious way forward and sensible “.

On the other hand, the DUP has repeatedly said that its only ‘red line’ for a deal with the EU is that NI should be treated the same as the rest of the UK. He did not vote for such a deal because Britain has never been offered one. And it is difficult, if not contradictory, for a trade unionist to deny that the party was perfectly within its rights to campaign for Brexit in a national referendum and to expect the result to apply to the Union as well. North Ireland.

Of course, there are serious and legitimate disagreements between the DUP, UUP and TUV on political issues and social attitudes. It is also fair to say, however, that in Northern Ireland the debates on politics are so impoverished that the differences between the parties are often more a question of presentation than substance.

Unionism is certainly stronger when it can attract a wide range of voters who share a commitment to the Union but may have radically different views on everything else. However, trade unionists cannot escape the fact that the protocol has been the biggest threat to NI’s place in the UK in decades and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

A few years ago there was a valid argument that constitutional issues could be put aside for now, but that is absolutely not the case now.

The Unionist parties are as one in their opposition to anything that divides this province socially, politically or economically from the rest of the United Kingdom. They must ensure that there is no doubt on this point, even with the approach of the legislative elections.

• Other articles by Owen Polley below, and under this information on how to subscribe to the News Letter

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