Russian muscle may give Boris the lifeline he desperately needs – and make it an ideal time to focus on the Protocol

A platform piece from John Coulter:

By John Coulter
Friday, 21st January 2022, 6:54 am
Updated Friday, 21st January 2022, 11:15 am
Russian President Vladimir Putin in southern Siberia. Picture released by the Kremlin on August 5, 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin in southern Siberia. Picture released by the Kremlin on August 5, 2017

With Russian boss Vladimir Putin set to invade the Ukraine, could even limited military action by the Kremlin provide seriously under-fire British PM Boris Johnson with a much-needed escape route to avoid the troubled Tory from having to quit Number 10? This is the real conundrum.

President Putin has made no secret by his actions that rebuilding his Empire of the East is part of his populist policy to remain in power in the Kremlin.

While the overall rebuilding of the Russian Empire in the Baltic and the Balkans remains Putin’s priority, the immediate target is the former Soviet republic of Ukraine – which significantly borders four of the current EU member states – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania.

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Even limited military action by the Russians against Ukraine could have the midnight oil burning brightly in Brussels as the EU presses the political panic button over Putin.

Ironically, Russian tanks rolling across the Ukrainian border could well buy seriously under-fire British Prime Minister the valuable time he needs to head off a coup within his own Conservative party.

Put bluntly, the economic and political controversies caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol will plummet down the EU’s ‘to do’ list if Putin decides on a military option to bring Ukraine back into the new-look ‘Russian Empire.’

Even a limited military strike by the Russians, let alone a full scale invasion, will unleash a major refugee crisis for the EU. Given the state of the so-called Ukrainian forces, the chances are Ukraine will not put up much of a fight against the Russians.

The EU will become concerned that Putin will build a so-called ‘Red Wall’ around the overall EU state borders.

While Boris Johnson will be worried by a rebellion among ‘Red Wall’ Tory constituencies (where Conservative MPs have wafter-thin majorities) the Johnson-supporting MPs will also use Putin’s designs on Ukraine to launch an equally full scale onslaught on the Protocol as a deflection against the highly damaging ‘Partygate’.

The so-called ‘double jobbing’ legislation, allowing Westminster MPs to seek seats in the Stormont Assembly, has been scrapped. With problems mounting for Boris inside his party, he has taken the gamble that he will secure his own job first rather than worry if the DUP will wreck the Northern Ireland power-sharing Executive at Parliament Buildings ahead of the expected May Stormont General Election.

Now is the time for Boris to launch his attack on the Protocol using Foreign Secretary Lis Truss.

A Protocol victory for Boris will buy the PM valuable survival time.

A Russian action in Ukraine will force the EU to take its eye ‘off the Protocol ball’.

Ironically, too, does Putin’s expansionist policy regarding the Baltic and the Balkans provide Unionism with an unexpected ace card should the Tories turn ‘Judas’ on Northern Ireland over the Protocol?

During the era of the Cold War when Russia was an overtly communist nation, the right-wing Conservative pressure group, the National Monday Club, issued a policy statement booklet warning that a united Ireland could become ‘Britain’s Cuba’.

Even if Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, now that the ‘double-jobbing’ legislation has been dumped, decides to pull his ministers out of the Executive pouring cold water politically on the Assembly with a Covid pandemic still hanging over society, that’s no guarantee the DUP will win enough MLAs for it to retain the First Minister’s post.

Under Theresa May as PM, the Tories ‘rewarded’ the DUP’s ‘confidence and supply arrangement’ with the disastrous Withdrawal Agreement.

Now the Boris Government has again fed the DUP to the wolves by axing the ‘double-jobbing’ legislation, which would have enabled Commons MPs from the party to use its ‘big guns’ possibly to win extra seats in the Assembly showdown.

What happens if that May election returns Sinn Fein as the largest party? What happens if the polls in the republic are correct and Sinn Fein also emerges as the largest party in Dublin’s Leinster House, and Unionism is faced with a Sinn Fein First Minister and a Sinn Fein Taoiseach?

What happens if Truss and Boris cannot politically and economically neuter the Protocol, even if Truss triggers Article 16 on the flow of goods between mainland.

What happens if Sinn Fein in the top seats on both states in Ireland leads to the much talked about border poll?

Can the pro-Union community be guaranteed of winning that poll?

In short, with their backs to the wall politically and staring down the barrel of Irish Unity in some form, what should Unionists do?

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Ben Lowry, Editorstates in Ireland leads to the much talked about border poll?

Can the pro-Union community be guaranteed of winning that poll?

In short, with their backs to the wall politically and staring down the barrel of Irish Unity in some form, what should Unionists do?

Dr John Coulter has been a journalist in Northern Ireland since 1978, including for the News Letter