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He said what suited him, they heard what they wanted to hear July 28, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Alex Kane in the IT has an excellent piece that really nails the problem regarding Boris Johnson and the Northern Ireland Protocol with regard to the DUP. He notes that:

Party-political unionism (the DUP, UUP, TUV and a few fringe parties), along with elements of older and younger loyalism, and the Orange Order, insist – for now – they are not willing to pay the price. Their fear is that accepting what would be, to all intents and purposes, a changed relationship with the rest of the UK would make it much harder to insist that Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the UK. And that, in turn, could raise problems in the event of a Border poll (which seems likely within the next decade or so).

All that is true to an extent, but this was – to repeat once more, a direct outcome from a Brexit that the DUP, TUV and a few fringe parties, sought. That the changed relationship with the rest of the UK is not as they expected when they supported it is hardly here or there. Something was going to change should Brexit come to pass. And it did come to pass. 

Once upon a time there was the Backstop. Political unionism loathed this, and were more than happy when one T. May was ejected from the position of PM and Johnson took over.

But then, Johnson, compounded this as Kane notes:

But his deal, which took Britain out of the EU, while leaving Northern Ireland partly within it, was much worse than May’s backstop, which planned to keep the entire UK in the customs union and much of the single market. The Northern Ireland protocol resulted in the North being treated very differently from the rest of the UK and placed in a position not dissimilar to that of a semi-colonial constitutional granny flat.

And it’s not as if Johnson was not and is not up to speed on all this:

Johnson is aware of the problem the protocol presents for unionism, not least it is seen as another massive betrayal by a UK government. He is aware of it because the DUP was telling him about it every day between July 2017 and December 2019, when it was propping up the Conservatives in government. Yet he was willing to attend its annual conference and not tell the truth to them. Willing to attend an event hosted by the party at the Conservatives’ own conference in 2019 – and not tell the truth to them. Willing to attend a general election event in Belfast in December 2019 – and again not tell them the truth.

 

It’s a compelling indictment of Johnson on so many levels. But the problem for unionism is, of course, that Johnson doesn’t answer to the DUP or the UUP or those other worthy representatives of political unionism. Indeed he doesn’t care about them at all. Kane rightly points to the fact that Johnson doesn’t need, or care, about votes or representatives in the North. And so:

 So, the chances of him bringing down his entire “getting Brexit done” withdrawal agreement to help Northern Ireland unionists seem remote. And unionists know it.

Moreover as Kane continues Johnson knows that for all the stuff about those set against the Protocol, and that may vary, there’s a solid other bloc, seemingly a majority or near enough, who are in favour of it, and perhaps more. Indeed Kane goes further and notes that it’s not at all clear that the majority of unionists are not in favour of the Protocol. And those being the case then there’s no appetite to pull down Stormont, let alone put the current numbers in the Assembly at risk. 

So Kane points to one factor that might influence Johnson: “

The only thing that might give Johnson cause for concern is the possibility of the recent, mostly low-key, protests from a section of loyalism tipping into violence.

But quoting accounts from the Anglo-Irish Agreement (and as it happens I’m a bit of a fan of the AIA because it was the agreement that – as it were – forced the UK to actually concede that NI, whatever else, was not as British as Finchley and that an input from the ROI was absolutely necessary – that was to have ramifications further down the line. Sovereignty after all is either absolute or it isn’t, and of course it isn’t absolute and once the latter is demonstrated, well then it becomes easier to modify it again and so on). And what was the intelligence and security forces assessment at the time of the AIA? That unionism as a whole wasn’t going to fight to the last over a small number of ROI civil servants at Maryfield. 

Yet there was a short burst of unionist and loyalist agitation against the AIA – including the RUC getting a very torrid time of it for a while and then… it dissipated. As Kane notes, no doubt there’s been assessments made about the response to the Protocol. And presumably Johnson feels reasonably sanguine that throwing shapes but doing nothing overly substantive to same will win the day. And he is likely correct in that assessment. But Kane has a deeper point to make. Even if Johnson is wrong:

Johnson hopes for the former but may have to deal with the latter. What he does then is anyone’s guess. Either way, he is the worst possible ally unionism could have right now.

Comments»

1. EWI - July 28, 2021

The Northern Ireland protocol resulted in the North being treated very differently from the rest of the UK and placed in a position not dissimilar to that of a semi-colonial constitutional granny flat.

Someone is in denial. This has been the status of ‘Northern Ireland’ since 1921, and of Ireland long before that.

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WorldbyStorm - July 28, 2021

That’s true and it’s a telling indication of how contemporary unionism has a remarkable blind spot in relation to the realities – not least that the UK itself is differentiated internally between Scotland and England and NI and GB. NI has never been a seamless whole with GB, and never will be. The GFA/BA itself merely underscored that. Though I guess one could say the Protocol makes this a lot more evident on an economic level – even if politically nothing has changed.

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banjoagbeanjoe - July 28, 2021

And dare I say it will be important for ‘us’ in the south (and the north) to understand that NI will never be a seamless whole with the current RoI either, when the inevitable UI comes about.

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EWI - July 29, 2021

And dare I say it will be important for ‘us’ in the south (and the north) to understand that NI will never be a seamless whole with the current RoI either, when the inevitable UI comes about.

I hear again about the supposed magical differences between Derry and Donegal.

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banjoagbeanjoe - July 29, 2021

The differences are not magical. They are material. As are the differences between Derry and Durham.
Northern Ireland is not as ‘British’ as Finchley. Neither is it as ‘Irish’ as Offaly.

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Fergal - July 29, 2021

To Joe below!
Give it another twenty years of Tory rule from London and Durham might go independent too!

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banjoagbeanjoe - July 29, 2021

But in a materially different way to Derry and Donegal and even Dumfries, Fergal.

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WorldbyStorm - July 29, 2021

I think the sheer weight of numbers does make matters different. Clearly the situation was different in 1920 and has remained so ever since. The reality of two communities adhering to different national identities (not two nations) side by side in such numbers has impacted and inflected everything since. If indeed northern unionism was the same as southern unionism in 1921 then we wouldn’t have the issues we have had ever since because the same approaches would have worked, and I don’t believe it’s simply due to the support of the British at that time though that was a factor. The IRA in the revouotionary period was clear that the north was different too. None of which takes away democratic rights on the island as a whole – or more pertinently within NI – with relation to the future.

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EWI - July 29, 2021

If indeed northern unionism was the same as southern unionism in 1921 then we wouldn’t have the issues we have had ever since because the same approaches would have worked

There was a lot more in common between ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ unionism than people realise, for any particular behaviour or attitude in the period. Arms-smuggling and drilling were going on in Dublin at the same time as in the north, etc.

And it is a perhaps understandable mistake to assume that the numbers are uniformly distributed even within counties – I don’t have it to hand, but I think one of the Boundary Commission maps showed the actual concentrations, which look more like lumps with no particular adherence to county borders. The question is why the lumps which ended up in the Free State are assumed to be somehow mystically different from lumps incorporated within Northern Ireland (at least a large part of the answer is that the traditional supremacism continued in the north, with the colonial blank cheque behind the whole show).

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WorldbyStorm - July 29, 2021

Agreed it’s not mystical, but it is about concentrations of populations and so on. Or put it another way. Why did nationalists in the North not simply acquiesce in 1921 and after? Well they did to a large extent, but periodically there were outbreaks of armed struggle. The point being that they didn’t, despite a larger community around them, abandon their national identity, and that wasn’t due to democracy, or anything else, it’s simply that national identities, however much one likes or dislikes them are pretty embedded psychologically. There was the reality of the Free State across the border, which assisted in that. And many many more factors. Whereas the unionist population in the South was a lot more fragmented, even where it was locally a majority these were relatively small in total to the extent that only in Ulster and TCD did unionists win seats atin 1918 and the total unionist vote in the south was around 27,000. Compared with a quarter of a million in the six counties (as was to be). By contrast the number of nationalist votes in the north was about 110,000. It’s just impossible to look at those stats and not feel that integration of say 27k plus dependents etc across 26 counties and integration of 250k plus dependents etc concentrated in 6 counties of 32 is a very different sort of political and societal challenge. It has nothing to do with whether Donegal is the same as Derry (though to be honest the real comparison would be Down and Donegal) but everything to do with the concentration of actual political power, actual communities and so on. And saying that doesn’t weaken any resolve to address partition, rather it is to focus on the necessity to get undoing partition right.

There’s an interesting thread here on Slugger looking at counties rather than electoral boundaries and how in a way unionism’s bastions are Antrim and Down but look at the figures where even now those two counties population wise have such large unionist majorities numerically. https://sluggerotoole.com/2021/07/27/what-if-ni-voted-by-county-analysing-the-2019-local-election-results/

The thing is that reuniting states is difficult. Germany a good forty years after reunification still has stresses and strains and that’s from a position of being divided for what less than half a century and with broadly speaking a lesser cultural and political division. One need only look at the FYR states to see how difficult it is to (re)build states – though I don’t think that the challenge is as great as that. As noted above integrating unionism into an all-island polity is a very great challenge (and a very great opportunity) but for it to work it’s going to have to incorporate some degree of openness to the differences on the island.

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EWI - July 29, 2021

Or put it another way. Why did nationalists in the North not simply acquiesce in 1921 and after?

But the North was an aggressively non-integrationist entity, by its very nature. The Free State was no such thing, and successfully integrated the Protestant minorities. And I use ‘minorities’ deliberately, because the Protestant population is not and never has been a monolith, and that will hold true for the post-Northern Ireland period, too.

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WorldbyStorm - July 29, 2021

Absolutely agree, indeed writing my thoughts in the comment above I was tempted to say that had unionists been more generous perhaps they’d have tempered nationalist demands, say to something like Scotland re independence or union (though the sectarian divisions in the North appear to me – and I could be wrong – to be deeper and function in a somewhat different way). Or perhaps they couldn’t. They didn’t in any case. But even if they had would nationalists have stopped being nationalists across a range of areas even if they muted their political demands (which in a way they did anyhow given the structures, first opting out and then when in seeking some transnational solution or another).

But it’s one thing to take in a small minority that is fractured and in defeat and abandoned by its sponsor and quite another to take in a numerically much larger minority that is still cohesive, is geographically proximate to other parts of itself, has been in power, under the terms of the GFA/BA has to be (rightly in my view) respected etc, and so on. One isn’t the same as the other. Again, and I know I keep stressing this. None of these caveats are reasons to not pursue unity. Quite the opposite. I think we’ve a generational chance to start working seriously towards it – and SF have to take some credit for this too in keeping it on the table even as they grow larger. But knowing a problem is not the same as ignoring or running away from it, it’s key to dealing with it.

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EWI - August 1, 2021

But it’s one thing to take in a small minority that is fractured and in defeat and abandoned by its sponsor and quite another to take in a numerically much larger minority that is still cohesive, is geographically proximate to other parts of itself, has been in power, under the terms of the GFA/BA has to be (rightly in my view) respected etc, and so on.

I really don’t think that they’re as cohesive as all that outside of certain parts of urban centres (I have years of familiarity with Belfast). The liberal Protestant professional middle class, the sort of people who vote for Sylvia Harmon and Alliance, will have no difficulty at all fitting in (and the ones in my Dublin workplace have all happily become Irish citizens since Brexit).

In my own family, there were Protestants who were happy with independence in the south, as well.

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