Unionist pressure should come before negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol, not after

A letter from Mr RG McDowell:

By Letters
Friday, 3rd December 2021, 7:59 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd December 2021, 8:02 pm
Sinn Fein lobbied Brussells even before the Northern Ireland Protocol. Above Michelle O’Neill, Mary Lou McDonald and Martina Anderson meet the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in 2018
Sinn Fein lobbied Brussells even before the Northern Ireland Protocol. Above Michelle O’Neill, Mary Lou McDonald and Martina Anderson meet the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in 2018

The art of negotiation is often as much about timing as anything else.

Unionism in my opinion has consistently misjudged the timing of Northern Ireland protocol negotiations with unionist leaders across a range of organisations seeming to adopt a wait and see approach in the hope that some sense of fair play may deliver redress for Ulster’s unionists from a situation that would not be accepted by any other European country regarding its own internal sovereignty.

While I don’t doubt these tenancies have stemmed from a sense of wanting to keep Northern Ireland stable it has proved to be a terrible negotiating position. From before the protocol even existed Sinn Fein and others have gone to every European representative telling them a border in Ireland would be a breach of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). Unionism has eventually followed the same strategy but this was not adopted until long after the protocol was agreed.

Letter to the editor

By continuing with the Stormont executive we have allowed the narrative to take route in Europe that the protocol preserves peace in Ireland. The longer unionism delays collapsing the executive the less effective it will be. There is a danger we have already left it too late.

While the DUP’s threat to withdraw ministers did improve unionism’s fortunes slightly it is clear that the focus is still on economic mitigations which however welcome or well intentioned don’t solve our problem of not being a full part of the UK. If we wait until negotiations are concluded the EU is going to feel like they have already made concessions and are not going to want to reopen talks yet again.

Unionist pressure needs to come before and during negotiations rather than after. Only a collapsed executive will send a strong enough signal that unionism will not be ignored.

It is not a desirable option but if we don’t do it we will never be able to say we did all we could to prevent it. What unionist representative or leader really wants to go down in history as the people who didn’t resist the protocol if it proves to be a historic land mark on the road to Irish unification?

Mr RG McDowell, Belfast BT5

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