For once the DUP is right, Stormont cannot return until the Irish Sea border goes

A letter from John Gemmell:

By Letters
Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 3:28 am
Updated Thursday, 12th May 2022, 7:17 am
We might see a long period without a Stormont executive. This will further boost Alliance, but unionism has no choice
We might see a long period without a Stormont executive. This will further boost Alliance, but unionism has no choice

Denis Healy used to say that when you are in a hole you should stop digging.

He would probably have advised unionists to accept limited reforms to the Northern Ireland Protocol, accept a Sinn Fein first minister, seek the middle ground, concentrate on the cost of living, health and housing, and bounce back in due course.

I might have said the same, until I realised that root and branch reform of the protocol is vital, and the EU will not easily agree to that.

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This is primarily, I think, because of their understandable deep antipathy towards Boris Johnson.

They do not trust or like him, why should they hand him a famous victory?

If he acted unilaterally they would probably, eventually, retaliate by suspending key elements of the GB/EU trade deal.

So, unionists will have to stand firm.

Many moderate people, including many young people, will not agree, but Stormont cannot return until the sea border has largely gone.

For once the DUP is right, the ball is in Johnson’s court.

But they should beware of his likely promises, he cannot deliver a meaningful renegotiation of the protocol and dare not act unilaterally. He might invoke Article 16, but only very briefly and for show.

I’m not sure that the DUP realises this, so they need to be closely watched in their dealings with the prime minister, as a child has to be supervised near an open fire.

The best outcome would still be a new prime minister, a fresh start all round. Failing that we might see a long period without an executive. This will further boost Alliance, but unionism has no choice.

In the meantime unionists should generously accept that Sinn Fein has won the election, and note that the inability of the EU and Johnson to agree is denying Michelle O’Neill the keys to the first minister’s office.

John Gemmell, Wem, Shropshire

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