IF Liz Truss’s calamity-strewn time in Downing Street is not yet over, her brief experiment with Iron Lady politics is most certainly consigned to the dustbin of posterity.
She may stagger on to the end of the week, to the end of the month, or even the end of the year, but the neoliberal, hard-right politics of economic and social division she pursued in the service of the shadowy figures behind the dark-money think-tanks which have been hothousing her for 12 years have been briefly tasted by the public and the global markets and then spat out in disgust. The party’s direction will almost certainly now be decided by centre-right, traditionalist, single-nation Tories whose overwhelming priority will be to begin the mammoth task of restoring, or at least, patching up, the party’s – and the country’s – shredded economic reputation. And if that doesn’t mean abandoning the disastrous Brexit project, it most certainly means mitigating the most damaging elements of the aggressive anti-EU strategy pursued by a succession of Tory incompetents over the past six years.
Those same unionists who refused to listen to the deafening warning klaxons that were sounding during the Brexit referendum campaign would do well to recognise what the coming changes in Downing Street are going to mean for their campaign to have the Protocol scrapped – a campaign which has left the North without a devolved government slap-bang in the middle of the biggest economic crisis since the property collapse of 2007.
Liz Truss’s Protocol Bill is almost certainly doomed. First and foremost it is doomed because it is seen as just that – Liz Truss’s Protocol Bill – and it is therefore, like her, discredited and broken. If it ever sees the page of a statute book it will be so amended and weakened as to be unrecognisable from the you-looking-at-me-mate statement to the EU that it was designed to represent. It is also doomed because, while entering into an economic war with the UK was always going to be a fight that the UK would lose, in the country’s currently critical economic straits, when it is desperately trying to win back even a sliver of credibility with the IMF and the money markets, it would be folly of unimaginable proportions. And yet it appears to be something that unionism is able to imagine.
It is quite simply a no-brainer for Jeffrey Donaldson to cut his losses and instruct his MLAs to get back to work, because their Protocol battle is going to be lost, just as so many others have been lost by unionism in recent decades. Such a policy reversal would certainly mean paying a political price, but if there’s any time to make a bold and pragmatic decision and then explaining why, it’s a time of terrifying economic uncertainty.
The spittle-flecked ultra-hardliners will scream from the sidelines, and with the prospect of a pre-Christmas election likely to see positions harden, there seems little prospect of unionism’s lead party doing what needs to be done to avoid another humiliation.