THERE’S widespread anger at the British Government’s statement on Tuesday of its intent to take a hatchet to its Brexit deal with the European Union. At the same time there’s quiet satisfaction among unionists, with DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson describing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’s outlining of the details of the unilateral action it intends to take on the Protocol as “a good start”.
The truth of the matter is that the anti-Protocol unionist minority in Stormont has seen movement towards its demands advanced by not an inch, while the pro-Protocol cross-community majority has lost no ground. Amidst all the sound and fury, the fact is that we are precisely where we were before the Foreign Secretary took to the dispatch box.
That this unprecedentedly dissembling government will say or do whatever it takes to get from A to B is a simple statement of fact backed up by copious evidence of their bad faith words and actions in the past six years. This is not even a matter on which politics here is split – in fact unionism has suffered the worst at the hands of the unceasingly mendacious Boris Johnson in recent years.
Leader @J_Donaldson_MP welcomes the Government's statement outlining its plans to introduce legislation to change the Protocol, but says that words are not enough, decisive action is needed, and soon. pic.twitter.com/vGG3x5JqE6— DUP (@duponline) May 17, 2022
A statement of intent – which is exactly what Ms Truss’s address to the House of Commons was – means absolutely nothing. As Mr Donaldson himself has repeatedly pointed out, it is only action that will persuade his party to join in the nomination processes necessary for a return of the political institutions. But if the action he is looking for is legislation, then people need to know that the necessary draughting and readings mean that no legislation will be enacted for at least a year. Throw in the almost certain prospect of legal challenges and Mr Donaldson’s longed-for day fades even further into the distance.
But that’s not the only complicator for the DUP. Were the legislation to get the thumbs-up in the Commons – a virtual certainty should the House get the chance to vote – it will almost certainly be knocked back by the House of Lords, which has shown itself to be an unlikely bulwark against past attempts by this Tory Government to flout domestic and international law. Throw in the fact that should Mr Donaldson decide to play the long game he is restricted to six months (because at that point the rules mandate that another election be held) and the publication of the Sue Gray report, which could place a landmine under it all, and we can see that the reality is on a different planet from the bluster.
Brussels, Dublin and Washington will have much to say and do in the coming weeks and we will in all likelihood see the British Foreign Secretary, who’s finding international trade deals to be as rare as Tories in Liverpool, have her mettle tested. She and her government face the very real prospect of a trade war on two continents at a time when the Brexit dream is being exposed more every day for the nightmare it is.
So, yes. Of course the lying Tories may finally be telling the truth. But will anyone bet on it?