Political correspondent John Manley hears TUV chief Jim Allister’s latest take on protocol, DUP and Northern Ireland’s centenary …
It doesn’t take long for Jim Allister to get into his familiar groove. Asked how his centenary unfolded, the TUV leader’s body immediately stiffened as he began to lament how the celebrations were “deliberately hampered” by the “malicious intent” of Republicans.
Trade unionists “were not allowed to plant so many roses in Stormont” to mark what he considers a “very important event”.
Mr Allister, who was re-elected last Wednesday evening without opposition to the head of his party, also acknowledges that 2021 has not so far been a great year for unionism or the union. While he may have “seen more DUP leaders and Ulster Unionists than I would like to remember,” the celebrations were muffled in what he sees as an unfavorable political backdrop.
“This year has brought to light a very conscious and deliberate attempt to end the union, through protocol,” he says.
“I have no illusions about the union-busting nature of the protocol – that is its purpose and its design.”
He cites Judge Colton’s ruling in the recent court challenge, of which he and his co-plaintiffs lost the first installment, noting how the trade border “abrogates the cornerstone of union, namely economic union.”
“Protocol is in all manifestations of the union dismantling process and if it is allowed to take hold and do it, it will,” he said.
He was not surprised to lose judicial review and leaves little hope for the Court of Appeal, which is expected to hear the case in the fall. However, he has more hope that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the plaintiffs, although it will be next year at the earliest.
The leader of the TUV believes that if the protocol is found to conflict with British constitutional law, then “he dies”. He briefly appears melancholy as he ponders the potential for a legal victory.
The post-Brexit trade agreements not only undermine the union “openly” by economic separation, says the leader of the TUV, but also “secretly, by building an economy on the whole island as a springboard to political unity “.
The EU itself, he says, has demonstrated throughout its life how political union gradually stems from economic union.
He argues that northern businesses are being forced to reorient their supply chains away from Britain “thus creating an economy spanning all of Ireland and forcing Northern Ireland to increasingly look away from London to Dublin ”.
Mr. Allister believes that economic union and ultimately political union are “the hope and expectation of those who peddle the protocol”. He likens it to a “salami-slicing union”, which in the process demonstrates how “the so-called principle of consent is stupid and empty”
“All you have to ask for is the final hoisting of the Union Flag at Hillsborough Castle – in other words, you make all the constitutional changes before the final handover, and you don’t need the consent of no one, ”he said.
This “stealthy dismantling of the union” is the “evil genius” of the protocol, says the leader of the TUV, and it is also what makes the nationalists support it: “As nationalists, I am sure they can’t believe how easy it was under the guise of protocol to get goals that the IRA attempted to achieve through violence and others through political activity – and now it’s being done for them through the machinations of protocol. “
However, he says the other side of that coin is a “stoking unstoppable Unionist resentment”.
He speaks of the “madness” of his former DUP colleague Edwin Poots, whose department he says is implementing checks on goods coming from Britain, while opposing the measures.
“He and his party need to develop a backbone – if they don’t implement it, there can be no protocol.”
What Mr Allister describes as a “substantial disconnection between the DUP and much of its base” is caused by party ministers “now an instrument which is dismantling the union”.
Unusually, there aren’t many details when asked to list the difficulties consumers and businesses face due to the Irish Sea trade border. He quotes an anonymous seed company that no longer sells its wares in the north and explains how cattle exhibitors who take their award-winning bulls to England cannot bring them home if they are not sold and therefore have to sell the animal at a reduced price or spend six months. in quarantine.
Mr Allister insists that the “chaotic and disastrous” economic implications will worsen at the end of the grace period, but these concerns are secondary to the constitutional consequences, which cannot be mitigated.
It is clear that most of his anger at the protocol is directed at the EU, but he concedes that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – “a totally untrustworthy figure” – was complicit in the creation of the new trading conditions. However, the Tory leader seems to benefit from the doubt as he “did not achieve what he was doing constitutionally” and was ruled by “the opportunity of the moment” in his desire to make Brexit a success.
Notably, Mr Allister believes the protocol reduces the prospect of trade unionists ever acquiescing to a united Ireland on a democratic basis, because if the trade border does prevail, they will feel that unity has “been achieved by stealth in the underhanded process. of the protocol “.
“It would create an overwhelming resentment which would not be easily quelled and would leave a very oppressed and deceived people in this Ireland – and I don’t think that’s a recipe for stability anywhere,” he said.
“There is a difference between the people of Northern Ireland who freely and openly give their consent and the people of Northern Ireland who are denied the right to consent at key stages in the process.”
He argues that the SDLP is happy to avoid its democratic principles by “swallowing a state of vassalage”, while the once Eurosceptic Sinn Féin is timely and “uses the EU to advance its own ideological interests”.
The role of the DUP in adapting what has become the protocol began two months after the 2016 European referendum, the TUV chief said, when Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness wrote a joint letter to Theresa May “demanding special arrangements ”for the north.
He sees this correspondence as the “start of the bandwagon for a special status which has become the protocol via the backstop”.
The DUP’s second major mistake came in October 2019, according to Allister, when the party consented to a regulatory border, believing it would be vetoed by the Stormont assembly.
“But of course, once Boris had that concession, he pocketed it and shredded the coin on Stormont’s consent,” he adds.
“They have also been slow to recognize and deal with the constitutional implications of the protocol – we had a stupid conversation over Christmas with Arlene Foster about the opportunities of the protocol.”
Mr Allister admits Unionist concern over the protocol has created electoral opportunities for his party, which for the first time plans to field candidates in the 18 northern constituencies in the Stormont election next year. He says the TUV has received more than 800 applications for party membership since the start of the year, many of them “DUP core members” – nearly four times its membership.
When it is suggested that ardent Brexiteer and former Labor MP Kate Hoey could run for the TUV candidate, he isn’t ruling it out.
“Baroness Hoey would do any party credit, but I have to respect, she has a role and a function (in the House of Lords) which I imagine is her priority,” he said.
When asked if he would rule out her candidacy, the TUV leader replied, “It’s not for me to exclude”, before confirming that she is not a member of the party. “So the presumption would be no,” he adds.
However, he argues that “Unionist disdain (on protocol) will be diluted at the ballot box because of the absurdity of the provisions by which we appoint a first and deputy prime minister.”
“This gives the DUP a bogus playing card, where they claim to ‘vote for us to keep Sinn Féin out’ when in fact they themselves are bringing them (Sinn Féin),” he said. .
“The DUP does this under the pretext that there is in fact a distinction between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister when there is none – one cannot write a letter without the other.”
Mr Allister says if the DUP’s objection to a Sinn Féin prime minister is ‘more than a bogus concern or a voting concern’, then the party should refuse to run for premier or vice -prime minister after the election.
He also believes that if the DUP is sincere in its opposition to the protocol, it should disrupt North-South institutions.
The TUV also believes that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party should make Boris Johnson choose between abandoning the Irish Sea border or overseeing the collapse of Stormont’s institutions.
However, he argues that his old party believes decentralized institutions and “keeping Sinn Féin in power” take precedence over protocol.