THE latest act in the grotesque and continuing charade that is British politics took place on Tuesday when new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reshuffled the cabinet – the most intriguing part of which for us was his decision to retain the services of the current London plenipotentiary, Chris Heaton-Harris. Doubtless he is today feeling pathetically grateful, because the cameo role that he played in this latest episode of this unending Tory psychodrama was to declare a final, desperate act of loyalty to the thoroughly discredited and disgraced liar Boris Johnson moments before he slunk away yet again.
Such are the continuing blessings of partition.
It is probably reasonable to assume that Mr Sunak will at least soften, if not totally abandon, the comically inept hard-man policy that the Tory party has been following post-Brexit in relation to the EU. It is reasonable not because Mr Sunak is a compassionate Tory – the term is an oxymoron and in naming his new cabinet he has shown us who he really is. Home Secretary Suella Braverman was effectively sacked by Liz Truss in one of her last acts as PM for breaking the ministerial code. Ms Braverman is so extreme when it comes to the issue of migration that a panto director would tell her to tone it down – she said her ‘dream’ is to send a plane full of desperate migrants to a detention centre in Africa. Mr Sunak’s decision to reappoint her despite the fact that she is badly damaged goods has nothing to do with strategy or policy – indeed, his new administration is already being disrupted by a hostile reaction to the decision – and everything to do with the grubby political posititioning which took place in the lead-up to his coronation. Such are the people who decide our future.
The reason Mr Sunak will retreat from a fight with the EU he can never win is that the promise of economic stability on which he has hung his hat is entirely undeliverable while the UK remains at daggers drawn with the world’s largest trading bloc 30 miles to the south. In the gargantuan job of steadying the markets and placating the International Monetary Fund, avoiding a trade war with Brussels, which would damage the EU and virtually obliterate the UK, is quite simply an economic sine qua non.
And we know where this is heading in relation to the Protocol and in relation to the continuing unionist insistence that the Protocol has to go. The Protocol was never going anywhere, and if senior unionists genuinely didn’t realise that simple truth before, they can’t fail to miss it now. Paradoxically, in their favour is the fact that unionist leaders have been decidedly (deliberately?) non-prescriptive on what they want and need. In his most recent remarks on the subject, Jeffrey Donaldson spoke of the need to remove not the Protocol but the “Protocol debris”. Movement on the Protocol can and will happen.
And when it does unionism should react sensibly and pragmatically – for the sake of their own future and that of us all.