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Alban Maginness

DUP need to change tack, the NI Protocol is going nowhere

Alban Maginness

Party must realise their theatrics won't work with electorate


Change: Arlene Foster needs to return to her pragmatic approach to the NI Protocol

Change: Arlene Foster needs to return to her pragmatic approach to the NI Protocol

Change: Arlene Foster needs to return to her pragmatic approach to the NI Protocol

Have the DUP lost the plot? This is not a derogatory putdown, but a fair question to pose, whenever the DUP is flailing about with support for an ill-judged court challenge against the NI Protocol and a highly questionable meeting with senior loyalist paramilitaries, under the aegis of the Loyalist Community Council.

But the latest antic is Gordon Lyons, the DUP minister for Agriculture, ordering his officials to stop work on new permanent border control posts. This in itself does not stop food products coming from Britain being checked by border control staff at Larne, or elsewhere. He also has asked officials to stop recruiting border control staff. His excuse was that he was responding to practical difficulties caused by the Protocol.

He added: "It's a real nightmare for us and it's going to be causing us an awful lot of problems."

So instead of mitigating those problems, the minister is intent on potentially causing even greater problems by obstructing the building of better facilities and recruiting much needed additional staff.

It is extremely doubtful that any of these actions are within his legal remit as a minister within a devolved Executive. His actions are in defiance of the Westminster government and in contempt of a binding international treaty negotiated by the UK and the European Union.

Ironically, much of the treaty's content was enthusiastically supported by the minister's own party. This moot point may well have to be decided in the courts. But this is all a bit of political theatre to pretend to the electorate that the DUP is getting tough on the Protocol and will stop it in its tracks.

However, the electorate are not that credulous and have shown in recent opinion polling that they will not be fooled any more by DUP political theatrics.

And there's the rub, because it was the recent LucidTalk opinion poll in the Belfast Telegraph that shook a complacent DUP hierarchy to the core.

The party shown to be trailing at 19% sent shockwaves through the party's ranks. The last time they were around 19% was in 1998.

The DUP's hitherto impregnable vote is being steadily cannibalised by Jim Allister's TUV and paradoxically also by the Alliance party.

Allister, by his masterly political performances in the Assembly and specially on the Nolan Show, has forensically dissected the DUP's critical mistakes over Brexit, and made a fool of them to the more hard-line traditional unionist voters. Their dalliance with the Tories and the treacherous Boris Johnson is now a matter of public ridicule.

Parallel with the traditional unionist voters deserting to the TUV, more open-minded DUP voters have opted for the Alliance party, as they see them as a more competent, modern looking "unionist" party. With typical misjudgement, the Ulster Unionists lost out on an opportunity to attract those disillusioned voters.

Those voters see Alliance as a party that foresaw the perils of Brexit and tried to prevent its damaging effects on the local economy. They didn't trust the DUP tie-up with the Tories and foresaw its inevitable disaster.

Up until Brexit went sour for unionism, the DUP could be confident of a compliant unionist electorate, so long as they kept Sinn Fein at bay. Shockingly, for the DUP the old voting certainties are gone and they are in a tail-spin, trying desperately to regain old ground. It is this that has pushed the DUP into over-drive over the past month.

First, we had the DUP five-point plan which has had little impact, save a lacklustre debate at Westminster in which the government reasserted its commitment to the Protocol. The plan itself was pinched from Jim Allister's various philippics in the Assembly.

There was a public hardening of her position by Arlene Foster, who previously had wisely advocated a pragmatic acceptance of the Protocol and the exploitation of all the opportunities that Brexit now offered to the regional economy. Under serious internal pressure, Foster has declared that it was not enough to mitigate the problems associated with the Protocol, but the Protocol itself must go.

This is reminiscent of Paisley's infamous declaration in Belfast city centre in 1985 that the Anglo-Irish Agreement had to go.

And of course, despite all of Paisley's bluff and bluster, the Anglo-Irish Agreement didn't go, but stayed in place until it was superseded by the Good Friday Agreement, which was in Paisley's terms much worse.

Arlene Foster should take note and realise that she and her party in attempting to get rid of the Protocol are going nowhere.

With united resistance from the EU and Boris Johnson having a solid 80 seat majority, and being up to his eyes fighting the pandemic, the plight of the DUP is not of any consequence.

Belfast Telegraph

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