Only the prospect of lost votes will force unionist parties to take a clear line on the Northern Ireland Protocol

A letter from Kirk McDowell:

The DUP must collapse Stormont until the protocol is removed or make a case as to why continuing devolution is still in the best interest of the Union, even with the protocol
The DUP must collapse Stormont until the protocol is removed or make a case as to why continuing devolution is still in the best interest of the Union, even with the protocol

The recent contributions to the News Letter from both Gregory Campbell MP and Lord Dodds, offer the unionist electorate their first insights into what they can expect from the DUP, as we approach May’s assembly election.

(Campbell: ‘It is leadership, not weakness, to give time for protocol talks,’ Jan 13. Dodds: ‘It is bizarre to suggest DUP ever backed protocol’, Jan 8. See links to both below)

It would seem that the party are attempting to rewrite the history of the Northern Ireland Protocol by keeping the narrative solely focused on Westminster. This allows the blame for the protocol to be put entirely at the hands of the increasingly toxic Boris Johnson and the large Tory majority who voted for it.

Letter to the editor

By doing this the DUP no doubt hope to distract voters from its record of collaboration with the protocol in the assembly.

The DUP are desperate to camouflage the fact that it has been one of their ministers who has been overseeing implementation of the protocol. Their hope seems to be that by focusing on the party’s opposition in Westminster, unionists will forget that the DUP assembly team actually voted for the protocol’s supporting legislation in December 2020.

The party are also seeking to hijack the mantra of unionist unity. Any unionist offering the slightest criticism of the DUP’s questionable position will be demonised and accused of stifling a united approach against the protocol.

Gregory Campbell’s critique of Jim Allister, demonstrated how far the DUP will be prepared to go with this tactic. Mr Allister has been the most articulate and consistent opponent of the protocol in the assembly. Yet his commitment to the unionist cause is being questioned seemingly because he did not serve in the UDR!

In the coming months it is imperative that grassroots unionists make it clear to their prospective DUP candidates that they will not be fooled and the party must now remove all ambiguity from their position.

The DUP must collapse the assembly until the protocol is removed in its entirety. Or, alternatively, they should make an honest case as to why continuing devolution is still in the best interest of the Union, even if the protocol remains in perpetuity.

If the DUP (and indeed the UUP) are not prepared to do this, then the unionist electorate must be prepared to force their hand, by refusing to even offer them even a preference vote in May’s election.

It is a drastic measure. But it is clear that only the prospect of heavy losses will force those parties to take a definitive position on the protocol.

Kirk McDowell, Belfast BT5

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