Peter Robinson: The Northern Ireland Protocol will spread like a cancer through the blood and bones of the Union unless it is removed

Have you walked around a supermarket recently?

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 11:54 am
Updated Saturday, 4th September 2021, 3:20 am
Peter Robinson, a former DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, writes a column for the News Letter every other Friday

Have you been to a garden centre?

Have you tried to buy items on Amazon?

Most people have and even those who thought we were making bricks out of straw now accept the evolving, spreading, and pervasive impact of the Northern Ireland Protocol on even the simple things of life.

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As I understand it, Sir Jeffrey is to make a landmark speech next week on the protocol. It will be a no-nonsense approach

The danger to our constitution is of an even greater magnitude.

Those unionist voices that have been raised in opposition to it, are daily being shown to have judged it right.

This newspaper has been one of the very few that helped to fire the warning flare, others got caught up in official-speak and propaganda pushing.

Now, they take on a Pecksniffian tone and churn out stories of empty shelves and warnings of reduced options for customers ahead of Christmas, but they colluded in selling the Protocol fraud.

While Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Alliance Party and Dublin peddled the deceitful and hollow line that it was good for Northern Ireland, happily most unionists were not buying it, nor the Brooklyn Bridge either.

The proper opposition response was forthcoming.

Unionist politicians made their disapproval clear to the prime minister, to the secretary of state, to the Brexit minister and the EU, they raised the issue in Parliament and in the Assembly, made their views known to EU leaders and anyone else who would listen.

Even the courts were engaged and confirmed that the protocol was not consistent with the Act of Union.

When Sir Jeffrey became DUP leader, he met with Lord Frost as well as the secretary of state and made it crystal clear that the protocol was not acceptable nor was it sustainable.

He gave the government the arguments, the space, and the opportunity to correct its course, but indicated it was time limited.

I know because I was there.

To its credit the government published its Command Paper which recognised the protocol was both harmful and untenable.

The Command Paper signified that action would follow to resolve the damage being caused to Northern Ireland but if the government is waiting for the EU to offer up a satisfactory alternative or to agree any UK proposals for change it will wait forever.

But Northern Ireland cannot function on EU-time. The government must act now.

If even the media who dragged every pro-protocol proponent into studios and plastered their newspapers with mocking attacks against those who suggested the protocol should be opposed, are now copiously covering the disruption and difficulties that are persisting, it should be clear that the conditions are in place to immediately undo the restrictions to trade, and the peril done to our position within the United Kingdom.

The UK should force the EU to the table.

They have the means to do so by triggering the safeguards in Article 16. However, it does need to be said that the limitations on the parameters of Article 16 should not be allowed to constrain the government in making necessary changes beyond the scope of Article 16, and unilaterally if they must.

In a democracy there is a heavy onus on politicians to seek to hold subterfuge and injustice up to the light, express disapproval and seek redress. Our politicians have fulfilled that requirement. If justice is withheld or denied, then there will be a reaction.

It has been seen in protests and heard in multiple conversations in every village, town and city across Northern Ireland. But when the wrong has not been put right then cometh the response — dissent.

As I understand it, Sir Jeffrey is to make a landmark speech next week on the protocol. It will define the position of unionism for decades to come and with it the future of the Union as we have known it.

It will also be a defining moment in his leadership and the first clear indicator of what kind of a party the DUP will be under his leadership. Based on what he has been saying privately, as he has been putting in place the foundations of the DUP he wants to lead; it will be a no-nonsense approach.

Already, in the background, he is repairing the damage of past months and laying the groundwork for a new order; he is working to bring the party together and now he must bring the unionist community together against a devilish ploy that will, unless it is removed, spread like a cancer through the blood and into the bones and organs of the Union.

I wish him well.

The die is cast.

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