Hold on to your horses Northern Irelanders! Wake up and take a reality check. Only a fully devolved working Stormont Assembly can politically energise the outworking of the E.U. backstop. Westminster cannot. The backstop is unworkable unless there is a N.I. legislature in place to implement the U.K’s authority to co- operate with the E.U. Yet the tantalising prospect of a linkage between the backstop and restoring the Assembly is emerging from the undergrowth. A deal on the backstop coupled with a deal on Stormont is on the cards. Dublin and Brussels are up for it. The question is will the DUP and Sinn Fein buy into a double whammy which removes their red lines? The plan is – the backstop plus extra trade guarantees with the U.K. and more euros for the Irish provided they accept a time scaled temporary backstop until technology takes over, with the U.K. and the E.U. agreeing a withdrawal treaty which includes free trade arrangements.
The custodians of the backstop’s ingenuity will be the Assembly. It will take its legal authority from Westminster with special dispensation to temporarily remain tied to the customs union. The Assembly will appoint a backstop Minister to work with counterpoints in London, Brussels and London. The North-South Co-Operation implementation bodies will appoint a board through the North-South Ministerial Council. The U.K. and Irish governments will decide when the timescale transition period to remove the backstop ends at which stage all merry hell breaks out because there has to be a winner. Politics thrives on winners and losers. So in all truth and honesty who are the winners? Is the plan good enough to restore devolution? Will S.F. drop their red lines? Will the DUP agree to Northern Ireland being set aside from the rest of the U.K.? Will Dublin agree to a timescale when the Blockchain technology is ready, available and doable?
Here is the rub ! Any unionist agreeing to the plan would be run out of the country. Sinn Fein would be laughed out of court. The luvvies would be swooning at the opportunity to sell out. The pretend unionists would be ready to cash in. UNLESS……..the Irish and Sinn Fein go further in a separate agreement with unionists. The prize being a signed written declaration agreeing that for the next 25 years all discussion pertaining to a united Ireland will be removed from the political arena. Twenty years without constitutional wrangling would be like the country winning the lottery. What a prize! It all begs the question – not to be confused with the wishy washy inbetweeners bereft of any allegiances – Naomi Long on BBC Newsnight saying ‘I am convinced a Northern Ireland backstop is the least worst option and on LBC radio the next day 10th September boasting that ‘I do not believe a Northern Ireland only backstop is a bad thing’. Where has the middle ground of unionism and nationalism gone? It was the middle ground that took the Belfast Good Friday Agreement over the line..The DUP and Sinn Fein both choked. Has the rallying call registered then by 100’s of thousands of militant moderates been reduced to a whimper? For that matter where is the voice of civic unionism? My gut instinct is that sooner than later if push turns into shoving people about the so far muted middle ground of civic society will find its voice and shout loudly and clearly enough!
Given where we are now it is fair for unionism to ask nationalism for what was it they signed up in the Belfast Agreement? Is the game up or will they sign the declaration for all our sakes?
In closing, warm congratulations to Baroness Ritchie, her terminology ‘representing Democratic Irish Nationalism is very intriguing in the middle of all that is transpiring . ..’