Ulster Unionists should lead the charge against the NI protocol — powerful words are more effective from moderate people

A letter from John Gemmell:

By John Gemmell
Monday, 1st February 2021, 7:30 am
Updated Monday, 1st February 2021, 12:06 pm
Ulster Unionists Steve Aiken, Robin Swann, Doug Beattie.  They are able and reasonable, writes John Gemmell, who has always thought they could lead a rebirth of unionism
Ulster Unionists Steve Aiken, Robin Swann, Doug Beattie. They are able and reasonable, writes John Gemmell, who has always thought they could lead a rebirth of unionism

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir ?” is a quote attributed to Keynes.

The behaviour of the European Commission over the last few days has reminded me of these words.

I had taken the view that there were two courses of action that unionists should almost never consider -invoking article 16 of the NI Protocol, and stepping back from the executive at Stormont. Instead, a calm progressive plan should be followed, to strengthen the Union, despite all the setbacks.

Letter to the editor

We should still be calm and progressive, but we are now faced with immediate outrages that can’t be glossed over.

Part of my worry about Brexit was that the EU may punish us. I told a friend, before the referendum, that we might be made to pay a terrible price for leaving the club. He asked why I would ever want to be part of a club capable of behaving in such a way. I didn’t have an answer at the time, and saw it as just a clever debating point.

But, the negative aspects of the Irish Sea border seem more intractable than I thought. Very importantly, the EU is not trying to solve them. Who, for example, expected that the armed forces would be required to complete forms before moving equipment ? How this must amuse them, in Brussels.

This is now one of many red lines for me. Furthermore, the truly astonishing, if brief, EU Commission invoking of Article 16 over vaccines is clearly not the act of a friend.

It’s time, calmly, to say that the NI protocol must operate fundamentally differently. This crisis is not of our making. But, a response is necessary. The EU Commission is increasingly unaccountable, their interference in NI should be dramatically curtailed.

Perhaps Ben Lowry (‘At last, reason for UK and unionists to stop being weak,’ Jan 30, see link below) was right all along and the UUP should have withdrawn from the executive last summer, to argue against the broad drift of events, at home and in Brussels. They are able and reasonable, and I have always thought that they could lead a rebirth of unionism.

Powerful words are more effective from moderate people. So, the Ulster Unionists should now lead the charge against the multiple injustices to which the good people of NI are being subjected.

John Gemmell, Wem, Shropshire

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