IT’S hard to believe that battle-hardened politicians like those in the DUP could be so gullible, but it appears they are. Certainly unionist politicians in the past fifty years and more have been almost indecently eager to play the role of abused partner – no matter how many times they’ve been lied to and kicked around, they keep coming back for more.
The father of unionism, Edward Carson, at least saw what had happened. In 1921 in a speech to the Ulster Unionist Council in Belfast, he lamented: “What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power.”
More recent decades show that continuing tradition of unionist politicians prone to manipulation by British Tories.
Margaret Thatcher, the woman who stood up to the Argies and gave them what-for, the woman who stared down the hunger strikers and let them die, the woman who denounced all republican resistance as criminal activity – surely unionist politicians could depend on her? Alas, no. In 1985, Thatcher travelled to Hillsborough Castle where, with Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald, she signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement and gave the south’s government a toehold in the affairs of NEI. Seeing too late Thatcher’s betrayal, the massive Ulster Says No campaign was launched and rolled on and on and on. But the Anglo-Irish Agreement didn’t go away and the No campaign subsided to a faint death-rattle.
Then there was British Prime Minister John Major. Surely this calm, straight-talking man would be on the side of unionism? No again, I’m afraid. With Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, Major signed the Downing Street Declaration, which made it clear that if the people of Ireland North and South decided to vote for Irish unity, the British Government would not stand in the way. And the Downing Street Declaration body blow had barely registered when the Good Friday Agreement uppercut sent Ian Paisley into mandatory coalition government with Martin McGuinness.
Moving into more recent days, we had Theresa May and then Boris Johnson making it clear that any differentiation between parts of the United Kingdom would be unthinkable.
Theresa May said she couldn’t possibly allow a border in the Irish Sea, nor could any British prime minister. Boris Johnson visited the DUP conference and echoed her words. Border in the Irish Sea? Never, never, never, never. But when the Withdrawal Agreement came into being in 2020, mirabile dictu, the thing that no British PM would ever sign up to had just been signed up to the Tories. The DUP had been shafted yet again:.
So now we have Liz Truss. Oddly, the Protocol got very little air time during those hustings, but Truss has made it clear she’ll come to the rescue of the DUP and tear up whatever needs tearing up, so that NEI is treated just the same as the rest of the UK.
But if Truss shreds those parts of the Withdrawal Agreement dealing with the Protocol, the EU will respond with what could become a trade war. The US, seeing the damage being done to the Good Friday Agreement, will put a handbrake on trade with Britain. And anyone who thinks border communities will meekly accept a new border in Ireland would need to think again. So with Truss in No.10, it’s going to be one of two things: (1) futile efforts to stiff the EU even as inflation rages, the NHS is on its knees, energy prices kick seven bells out of the British economy and the bad old days return in Ireland; or (2) Truss, having promised much, will follow the time-honoured tradition of Toryism and screw the DUP.
When, as Joan Baez once sang, will they ever learn?