Peter Robinson: The party of Edward Carson and James Craig will now just ‘lobby’ against the Northern Ireland Protocol

I often use football analogies, and why not, as Carlo Ancelotti once said, “football is the most important, of the less important things, in the world”.

Friday, 17th September 2021, 1:08 pm
Updated Saturday, 18th September 2021, 10:02 pm
Peter Robinson, the former DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland, writes a column for the News Letter every other Friday

However, the football quote that has been in my mind for the last week has been “play the ball, not the man”.

I knew Sir Jeffrey’s speech last week would provoke a reaction.

It was a milestone speech.

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We may be thankful Carson and Craig led the UUP during the Home Rule crisis and not Doug Beattie or we would have been 'lobbied' into a united Ireland a century ago

It was well argued, with logical conclusions arising from the facts he outlined. As usual the DUP-haters in the media responded to ensure the public was not allowed to reach its own conclusions about its content or his purpose for making the speech.

The anti-unionist media replaced Sir Jeffrey’s remarks with their own rendering and interpretation of its meaning. He was then questioned on the media’s translation and not on his own comments.

The angst and bile in most of the reports and the enthusiasm to smother what he said by dragging out every opponent who would attack him is straight out of the Hermann Goring Handbook.

So, let’s look at the fall-out.

If I was Sir Jeffrey, I would be very content.

When your opponents are confined to attacking your motivations and intentions and cannot lay a glove on your argument, you know you’ve got it right.

The shallow thinkers in the press ranks went for the much-used desperation line. They took a recent so-called opinion poll, which could be trusted as much as those emails asking for a deposit to be made to a Nigerian bank account, and suggested the speech was an act of “panic” and was really about the survival of the DUP.

Their columns were replete with suggestions that the DUP “threat” would be abandoned though they didn’t quite explain how the failure to make good on commitments would assist in improving the party’s support nor did they explain how being willing to take the issue to the electorate was indicative of panic.

What they all missed is the reality that in these circumstances the election would not be about the DUP or party politics but the protocol and the survival of the Union.

The unionist community were soon to get a dazzling exhibition of the extent of the UUP’s “tough” opposition to the Protocol — they disclosed that their role was only to “lobby” for the protocol to be changed. Yes, they did actually used the word “lobby”.

We may all be thankful that Carson and Craig were leading the UUP, during the Home Rule crisis, and not Doug Beattie or we would have been lobbied into a United Ireland a century ago.

Sir Jeffrey has determined that he will not be leading a “lobby group” he will lead a party that is prepared to take a stand for what it believes. Now there’s an interesting concept. A politician who actually means precisely what he says and is disposed to do what he can and must to protect the Union?

Then, as surely as night follows day the distraction brigade and scare-mongers took-over from the shallow-thinkers.

First Sinn Fein who previously brought down the assembly and only a few months ago threatened to do it again unless they got their Irish language demands met, sought to lecture the DUP on how dangerous and foolish it would be to threaten the assembly’s existence (apparently, in Shinnerland an election would do that).

It takes a special kind of political deceiver to argue that others should not think of doing what they have both done, and then later threatened to do again.

Then from the republican-lite chorus line came the cry, “How could anyone consider ‘bringing the assembly down’ in the middle of a pandemic.”

They then tag on every cause that might have a resonance with their own voter base claiming Sir Jeffrey’s position endangers the future. It is, of course, a smokescreen so that nobody asks them; “Is it not the imposition of a protocol that damages Northern Ireland’s economy and constitutional position that endangers the future?”

But no, our “neutral” media would never ask such questions. Instead, they seek to make it appear that the DUP has caused the doomsday clock to started ticking and brought the world to the brink of Armageddon.

Most democratic countries make provisions for consulting the electorate and Northern Ireland is no different. Are they afraid that the protocol will be exposed as a pro-nationalist contrivance without any unionist support?

Is the government prepared to continue with a process that is only acceptable to one section of our community?

What we all know, without a scintilla of doubt, is that any process that did not enjoy nationalist approval would be a non-starter and universally rejected, and we know from experience that any process that amassed nationalist opposition and anger would never be allowed to even appear on the pages of any treaty, agreement, or protocol.

If it comes to it, and I hope it does not, then a collective opposition to the protocol and its destructive effects must be democratically recorded as the settled view of unionism. The result, in my view will be a clear unionist verdict — “not in our name”.

Let us then hear from those who tell us they believe in conflict resolution, moderation, balanced agreements, and the need for cross-community support. If our divided society requires support from both sections of our community then a rejection of the protocol by unionism, at the ballot box, removes any democratic basis for its continuation and justifies its removal.

In a divided society no agreement will last without widespread support throughout the community.

Now, where and when did we last hear that?

Peter Robinson is a former DUP leader and first minister of Northern Ireland who writes for the News Letter every other Friday.

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