Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Carson was hoodwinked by Tories... his words should be nailed to DUP HQ

Conservative hardliners are not interested in NI; their mission is to get BoJo into Number 10

Sir Edward Carson in 1912
Sir Edward Carson in 1912
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

Sir Edward Carson, reflecting on the struggle against Home Rule and the partitioning of Ireland, ruefully stated: "I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power."

Carson's words of regret should be emblazoned on the door of the DUP's headquarters as a warning to them, and other unionists, to beware aligning themselves with the Conservative Party.

It is like a struggling debtor trusting a vulture fund to show mercy and not sell his home.

Such is the nature of the Conservative Party that it has no loyalty, even to those, like the DUP, who have saved their skins and kept them in power over the past three years.

The DUP foolishly aligned themselves with a group of Tory hardliners, the European Research Group (ERG), who are intent on seizing power within their own party and have no commitment to Northern Ireland, the Union or the DUP.

The issue of Brexit is an unscrupulous power-play by Boris Johnson and his supporters to make him Prime Minister. The DUP have fallen into the same trap that Carson regretted at the end of his political life.

Therefore, it should have come as no great surprise when the bulk of the Eurosceptic Tories welched on their "principled" opposition to Theresa May's deal, including the much-hated backstop, and, in a spectacular somersault, voted for it in parliament last Friday afternoon.

Sign In

You could not disagree with their own reasoning, which was that the withdrawal deal was the least-worst option. The other options were either a much softer Brexit, or, alternatively, a new referendum, which could risk reversing the Brexit result of June 2016.

For the hardline Tory Brexiteers, in their huge flip-flop to support Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, it was a naked act of political expediency that saw little value in clinging to their much-vaunted principled opposition to the withdrawal deal.

In a monumental climbdown, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chair of the ERG, admitted that May's deal was the least-worst option and, therefore, supported it in the parliamentary vote. He encouraged the DUP to do likewise or to abstain.

The DUP, unmoved by this display of realpolitik by the ERG, stuck to their benighted principles and voted against May's deal, which was defeated for the third time.

Nigel Dodds, now the real leader of the DUP, said in response on the BBC's Newsnight programme: "I would rather stay in the EU and remain, rather than risk Northern Ireland's position."

This was an extraordinary statement of reversal by a party that has mistakenly placed its trust in a dubious group of political opportunists.

But the DUP have only themselves to blame, as they are blind to the reality of their own counterproductive strategy in supporting Brexit over the past three years.

Did they not realise from the very outset that Brexit, in itself, could threaten the position of Northern Ireland within the UK?

Brexit inevitably saw the reintroduction of the border as a live political issue (having been put to bed by the Good Friday Agreement).

Brexit seriously challenges the unionist position, as it has reawakened the sleeping giant of militant Irish nationalism and also revived the weakened independence movement in Scotland, thus threatening the political unity of the United Kingdom.

Continued membership of the EU could be a tie-breaker in a hotly contested referendum on Scottish independence that is now inevitable, given all that has happened at Westminster over Brexit.

Could the DUP leadership not see the political insanity of supporting Brexit from the very beginning? What value was there, from a unionist viewpoint, in the rekindling of the border as a potent issue?

But alas, the DUP went on an emotional roller coaster by demanding a hard Brexit and opposing the Prime Minister's middle position.

In doing so, they wittingly, or unwittingly, upset the political calibration of the Good Friday Agreement.

In addition, the DUP foolishly elevated the backstop into a constitutional issue, which it is not. The backstop is a practical measure to protect the agreement, which, in itself, protects the unionist position.

And, as our anxious local business leaders have pointed out, the proposed backstop protects our economy and gives our businesses the best of both worlds, with one foot in the European Union and the other in the United Kingdom. Economically, this makes sense and will protect jobs and attract much-needed investment.

Being different to other UK regions has been a disadvantage in the past, but with the backstop, we could have a wonderful advantage that we can benefit from.

Now, Nigel Dodds, reconstituted as a born-again Remainer, might see the sense of the backstop too.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph