THE walls are closing in on DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, but instead of looking for the door he’s clearly determined to stand his ground and wait to be crushed.
The announcement by the British government on Monday that it has obtained legal advice that the Windsor Framework cannot be dismantled under UK law was another attempt by Downing Street to point out the exit sign to the embattled Mr Donaldson. In commissioning a legal opinion – even one which stated the blindingly obvious – the government handed Mr Donaldson an opportunity to convince his party and its supporters (or at least those capable of being convinced) that the game’s up. Had Mr Donaldson been so inclined, he would have been able to argue with cold logic that he and the party have run out of road. What possible reason, he could argue with incontrovertible logic, is there to continue a boycott whose only reason is to exert leverage when there is no leverage to be had?
Needless to say, he immediately rebuffed that opportunity not merely with a polite shake of the head but with a warning to No.10 not to go ahead and implement the Windsor Framework without the say-so of the DUP.
It’s a sign of the dire straits that the DUP leader finds himself in that rather than seek to de-escalate tensions, rather than try to fashion a statesmanlike and dignified solution to his woes, Mr Donaldson has decided to resort to Paisleyite guldering of the kind heard at street corners in the 1960s. But this is not the 1960s, Mr Donaldson is no Ian Paisley and the shrinking and increasingly disparate unionist community is no longer capable of being manipulated en masse by blood-and-thunder rhetoric.
@DUPleader Jeffrey Donaldson: “I have a mandate from the people of Northern Ireland” to keep Stormont down until UK meets his demands on the Windsor Framework. Don’t think his mandate is from the whole “people of Northern Ireland”.— Irish Agreement (@irishagreement) September 13, 2023
Video: @jamesgould23 pic.twitter.com/P9UbF1ol3s
Issuing warnings to the only people capable of extracting him from the mess that he’s in is standard operating procedure for unionism, but in the new environment in which unionism finds itself today – its treasured majority gone, a Tory government ruthlessly intent on doing whatever it has to do to survive – rubbing influential people up the wrong way is no longer a consequence-free pursuit.
Perhaps a month ago it might have been possible to argue that the Windsor Framework was capable of being manipulated to an extent that would please a sufficiency of senior unionists; that argument would have been a paper-thin one, but it would have commanded a significant audience. Today, it’s crystal-clear that not only is the Windsor Framework here to stay, but that the British government have given up on any pretence that unionist demands are capable of being met. Rather than take his courage in his hands and confront that stark reality, Mr Donaldson, like the limbless Black Knight in a famous scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, is loudly declaiming that he’s fighting on. Yes, it’s preposterous – perhaps even funny – but this farce is approaching its final act and when the curtain falls you can be sure Mr Donaldson won’t be laughing.