Ben Lowry: The mild DUP response to the protocol will cause Boris Johnson little concern

There he goes again.

Saturday, 3rd July 2021, 10:13 am
Updated Sunday, 4th July 2021, 3:57 pm
Larne Port. The prime minister first denied the Irish Sea border and latterly has denied that the Act of Union is partially repealed, even when his lawyers were arguing that in court

Boris Johnson thinks his betrayal of Northern Ireland is a laughing matter.

The man who flew to Belfast in 2018 to make specific pledges to the DUP that he would not accept a regulatory or tariff border in the Irish Sea, in order to get his boss’s job, then promptly agreed to both when he succeeded in ousting her, is joshing about the lasting constitutional damage that he has done.

This is the man who turned on Nigel Dodds days after his betrayal in October 2019, and mocked the then DUP deputy leader for wanting “a veto” on the protocol, a prime minister who would never dare to criticise the Sinn Fein actual veto.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

This is the man who, days after that cruel display of cowardice, taunting a party that had kept his party in power while not uttering a word against republican blackmail, was basking in the adoration of EU leaders, enjoying his moment as ‘king of Europe’ (having as a boy wanted to be ‘king of the world’).

And why were those European leaders so thrilled with Mr Johnson? Because he had dropped the core UK attempts to avoid the trade separation of Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

This is the man who denied there was a Irish Sea border in either direction to Sophy Ridge (at least his ‘throw forms in the bin’ denial to the NI Tories had a bit of truth, because he was talking only about NI to GB movements).

And he has been in and out of Northern Ireland several times since, warmly greeted by unionists, and clowning around, as is his way.

Yesterday, this wretched figure was joking about the ‘wurst’ of the sausage wars being over. In other words, he is edging towards a technical solution that will not alter the legal position that the 1801 Act of Union has been partially repealed.

But why would Mr Johnson not joke?

His conscience doesn’t trouble him, we know that. But more significantly, what heat is he getting from leading unionists in London?

This is partly because so many critics of the protocol chummed around with Johnson as a Brexiteer and have never fully made the break from him. Some of these people told us in 2019 that this Irish Sea border disaster was not a problem.

Last week David Burnside wrote: “All unionist ministers should decline any meetings with Irish counterparts and the Dublin political establishment should be made unwelcome at a political and social level throughout the Province.”

I agree that North-South should not proceed as normal after the unforgivable trashing of East-West due to the repeated warnings of a revival of the long tradition of Irish republican terrorism if the UK so much as exercised its right to use surveillance cameras at its own frontier.

But what about snubbing Tory leaders too?

I realise of course that unionists need to make friends and argued as much in a recent column some weeks ago. But they also need to show steel, and seize on leverage.

It would actually be deeply embarrassing to Boris Johnson to be repeatedly confronted as the man who not only partially repealed the Act of Union to get himself out of a fix, but lied about it in answer to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the House of Commons (when he said that the act had not been partially repealed, as his lawyers were arguing it had been in court, and which a judge has just found to be the case).

He should be called the Conservative and Unionist Destroyer until repeal becomes restore.

Instead it could hardly be clearer that he is not remotely concerned by the weak mainstream unionist reaction to this.

Apologists for the protocol, including secretly thrilled republicans, talk down what has happened. It is only partial repeal of the Act of Union. Maybe, but it deals with something as central to nationhood as free internal trade.

Peter Robinson in his News Letter column this week wrote: “The answer [to the protocol] will not be found in grace period extensions, nor indeed in easements and flexibilities it can only be found in the return of unfettered trading between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – in both directions.” (see link below)

Excellent sentiments.

But, despite the unattributable DUP threats to Nolan about the treat to Stormont if the protocol remains, I see nothing at all in the party’s response under any of its now three most recent leaders that will be causing a man as a ruthless as Johnson more than five seconds of concern.

Ben Lowry (@Benlowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

Other articles by Ben Lowry below, and beneath that information on how to subscribe to the News Letter:

——— ———

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Alistair Bushe