TO no-one’s great surprise, the British Government’s inflammatory plan to override parts of the Protocol comfortably passed its first House of Commons hurdle on Monday. Again unsurprisingly, there was little sign of unionist satisfaction, much less glee, when the result was announced because those who favour the union have no more idea of what happens next than the rest of us do.
The truth about Downing Street’s plan to nobble the deal it struck so very recently is that there is no plan. For Boris Johnson and his cabinet of chaos, the uncertainty is the point, the confusion is their saviour. The British Prime Minister is simply doing what he has done for the entirety of his career inside and outside politics – doing whatever is necessary to keep him in office a little bit longer. There is no master plan because there can’t be; the Tories are hoist on the petard of their own bungling exceptionalism; they have been since they were first confronted with the hard, cold reality of the vote to leave the EU fully six years ago now, and their dilemma has deepened immeasurably in the three years since the principle-free, lying charlatan Johnson took over the reins.
It was said before the Protocol Bill was drawn up; it was said after the Bill was drawn up; and it was said again this week as the Bill began its journey towards the statute books and it not only bears – it demands – repeating: There is little to no chance that the priorities of Johnson and his hapless underlings will be the same when the Bill reaches its next voting stage, much less when it reaches its final and most challenging stage – passage through the Lords. The most cursory of glances back show all too clearly the debris of broken promises and meaningless commitments that litter the trail to the cul-de-sac in which Johnson finds himself. The DUP have thus far shown themselves to be stunningly willing to ignore the painful lessons of the past in pinning their hopes of a Protocol win on a man who has for his entire adult life shown himself to be unworthy of trust and responsibility (that opinion may be expected in anti-Tory quarters, but it is a simple matter of fact that it is common currency not only within the Conservative parliamentary party, but among the nest of shameless vipers that is his cabinet).
At some stage Jeffrey Donaldson is going to have to make a call on whether he’s got enough on the Protocol to resurrect the political institutions – and the only thing we know for sure is that he is not going to be able to give unionists what he promised them. Because even this scandalous Bill acknowledges that the Protocol may be chipped at and undermined, but it is going nowhere. And what that means is that Jim Allister and his similarly noisy acolytes will be loudly complaining even in the hugely unlikely event that every jot and tittle of this Bill is made into law.
It’s extraordinary to think after what’s happened in the past that the DUP’s political fortunes are back in the hands of the Tories. Perhaps they find comfort in that.