Why as a former Ulster Unionist I would now give my first preference vote to the TUV

It is now over fifty years since I was first active in Northern Ireland politics and I can now reflect on what experience during this period has taught.

The protocol is undemocratic because Northern Ireland is no longer part of the EU. No other country in the world allows an external body of which it is not part to dictate how it must regulate its internal trading arrangements to its own detriment
The protocol is undemocratic because Northern Ireland is no longer part of the EU. No other country in the world allows an external body of which it is not part to dictate how it must regulate its internal trading arrangements to its own detriment

First it is necessary to ensure that constitutional mechanisms are soundly based and able to secure enduring stability.

The Good Friday Agreement, for all the hopes initially reposed in it, has not been capable of delivering.

This is not least because Sinn Fein have never expressed any regret for the campaign of murder conducted against the British community with the express intent of forcing them to leave Northern Ireland.

Jeremy Burchill was an Ulster Unionist Assembly Member 1982-86 for East Belfast and a member of the 1975 Constitutional Convention. He now lives in England

The Greek tragedian, Sophocles, in the fifth century BC, asserted ‘The soul, that has conceived one wickedness can nurse no good thereafter’.

Writing before Christ he failed to acknowledge the restorative potential of ‘penitence’. Unfortunately Sinn Fein, when pressed, at best dissemble or openly refer to deceased terrorists as ‘their dead’.

Naturally they may remember ‘their dead’, however right minded citizens are no less entitled to evaluate the moral integrity of those who revere convicted serial killers and laud them as ‘role models’ for the young.

In an interview in The Daily Telegraph (April 2) the former Conservative minister, Lord Tebbit, acknowledged that “the IRA were the great beneficiaries of the Good Friday Agreement”.

The illusion of respectability accorded Sinn Fein under the outworking of that agreement has facilitated their attempts to re-write history and to sanitise the use of political violence.

Unionists accepted the terms of the Good Friday Agreement against their intuitive better judgement in return for the ‘guarantee’ that there could be no change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without consent.

The value of that guarantee depended on the integrity of the national government in London. In 2019 this integrity was found sadly wanting when the Northern Ireland Protocol was imposed. The ‘guarantee’ is now recognisable as a mirage.

Some disingenuously endeavour to blame the protocol on Brexit. Whilst Brexit may be a causa sine qua non, it is not the operative cause of the protocol.

The operative cause was the weakness and bad faith of the government. The attitude adopted by the EU towards Northern Ireland in itself vindicates the decision to leave.

Conservative governments have now betrayed the people of Northern Ireland at least three times — proroguing Stormont and holding secret talks with the IRA in 1972, signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, and latterly accepting the protocol.

‘Copper fastened’ guarantees will in future be required. The word of government is no longer sufficient. Whilst at times they ‘talk the talk’ regarding the Union, there is precious little evidence of ‘walking the walk’!

When the protocol is finally euthanised it will remain impossible for unionists to revert to ‘business as usual’ at Stormont.

Recent judicial decisions in Belfast show that the terms of the Act of Union have been made impotent. Once the protocol is consigned to history it will thereafter be necessary for the relevant provisions of the Act of Union and the terms of the constitutional guarantee to be re-enacted in such a manner that these can only be amended or repealed by express words and with the approval of Northern Ireland electors.

This raises legal issues regarding parliamentary sovereignty. My respectful suggestion is that any subsequent amending statutory provision should require the requisite consent before submission to the Sovereign for Royal Assent.

Recently the EU decided to permit a free flow of medicine into Northern Ireland. That this is the only outcome from months of protracted and tortuous discussion bodes ill for the prospect of securing the free flow of trade within the UK through negotiation. Instead it manifests the ongoing inflexibility of the EU.

The protocol is undemocratic, but not because the province has no voice in considering European legislation. Only the naive delude themselves that the EU would pay any attention whatsoever to views expressed by the British community in Northern Ireland.

The protocol is undemocratic because Northern Ireland is no longer part of the EU. No other country in the world allows an external body of which it is not part to dictate how it must regulate its internal trading arrangements to its own detriment.

It is not surprising that the EU has no interest in the people of Northern Ireland — they are now non-members. Naturally it prefers to advance the objectives of one of its own member states eg. the Irish Republic. Experience of corporate negotiation has taught me that it is always wise to be realistic about the likely aspirations of the counterparty.

The May election provides the opportunity to re-set the political environment for future stability. This is achievable only by voting the full ticket of anti-protocol candidates.

The protocol will only be removed through refusing to continue to operate the Executive until the issue is addressed. The Ulster Unionist Party position that it can be negotiated away represents the ultimate triumph of hope over expectation. Nevertheless the Ulster Unionists are opposed to the protocol.

The most important lesson from the last 50 years is that whilst unionists consistently agree on objectives they squander political momentum through internecine argument over strategy. More is achievable from unified pursuit of a good strategy than from introverted pursuit of a perceived better strategy.

The TUV have proved most assiduous and effective in exposing the malign effects of the protocol.

The issue of which party nominates the so-called first minister is in reality less important than building the strongest grouping to restore free trade within the UK. Pending resolution of the protocol an executive is not in any event going to be formed. With the protocol gone unionism will have reversed the political momentum which over the past five decades has been all in the one adverse direction.

My conclusion — the prudent unionist should vote first TUV, then DUP, then Ulster Unionist.

• Jeremy Burchill was an Ulster Unionist Assembly Member 1982-86 for East Belfast and a member of the 1975 Constitutional Convention. He now lives in England.

Ruth Dudley Edwards will return next week