Today’s judgement in the High Court in Belfast puts the unionist parties in Northern Ireland on the spot. There can be no more equivocation, or words without actions. It’s decision time. Either the unionist parties fight this, using all peaceful and political means including the end of N-S engagement, Ministerial cooperation and even collapsing the Assembly, or they are finished. They are supposed to be leaders in the unionist part of the community. But they are also there to represent what their constituents want, and that is equality for NI within the union and the removal of the Protocol. The time to declare is now here. No more kicking the can down the road. There can be no more talk with people who ignore what they hear because they think there are no consequences for doing so. John F Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”. The same concept applies when the political process and agreed safeguards are removed.
Today we face a new reality. Those who secretly change the terms of treaties and agreements with us to remove the agreed need for our peaceful consent will create the conditions for violent objection.
The Belfast Agreement was voted for by a majority of people in NI on the understanding its terms would be upheld and protected. The agreement today is different and has been voted for by no one. The notion of cross-community consent as a safeguard was removed for political expediency. The Act of Union has been partly repealed to break the promise to NI’s unionists.
The Belfast Agreement is dead. Trust has been broken. And worse than that, it was destroyed in order for a UK govt to give a foreign power huge control over NI, imposing laws in which NI has no say. A multiple affront to democracy. Completely needlessly.
Boris Johnson and his acolytes made a judgement call. Would they break a badly negotiated and recently signed international treaty with the EU, knowing the EU would take steps to retaliate economically?
Or would he break the UK’s international treaty with Ireland, which underpins the peace agreement and power sharing in Northern Ireland, and also repeal part of the the Act of Union, in the hope unionists would quietly accept it?
Some people will be saying, “The UK’s behaviour shows it clearly doesn’t want you, so you should now accept a united Ireland”. That’s not only narrow minded, it’s shallow too.
People don’t turn their back on their country, jettison their nationality and arbitrarily switch their identity just because their country currently has a shitty, lying, duplicitous government.
Governments and the lying, corrupt, devious, unreliable charlatans that feature in them, come and go. More supportive governments can be just around the corner. Things change. They always have. Matters can also be influenced.
Unionists don’t dip in and out of their nationality and identity on the basis of dishonest Ministers in London. Our nationality and identity is based on far more than who has the keys to Downing Street. So there is no contradiction between our desire to remain a full and equal part of the UK, and our objection to the current government’s lies, bad faith and contemptible behaviour.
NI unionists must now look to themselves, as we have done before, with character and principle, to demand democratic norms are restored, that the Protocol is removed, and that NI once again becomes an equal part of the union.
Boris Johnson, Ireland and the EU gambled that unionists would quietly back down and accept this outrageous coordinated undermining of agreements, promises and democracy itself.
We now stand at a three-way junction. Either we back down like they hope, or the unionist parties get serious to fight this. The third option doesn’t bear thinking about, but that would be a consequence of politicians breaking the rules of the game.