Current Affairs Guest Article Politics

A Unionist Perspective On The DUP And Brexit

As a “small u” unionist, from a Protestant background, I was more than content with the situation in Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement. We had peace, we were full-blown citizens of the European Union, and we were able to choose how British or Irish (or neither of those things) we wanted to be. What was there not to like about that?

Set against those positives, even the fact that our two major parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin, proved incapable of sustaining a devolved administration was a niggling irritation rather than a running sore. Did we honestly expect any better of them?

Brexit, however, whether with or without a deal, and the DUP’s determined support for it, has shattered my sense of contentment. It has led me to realise that I will have to choose which union I prefer: the one with Britain, as part of the United Kingdom; or the one with Europe, as part of the EU. But even more disconcerting has been the realisation that the DUP are working to make such a choice impossible. And, as I explain below, they may well succeed. I claim to speak for no one but myself. But I would be amazed if I am the only unionist thinking this way.

So much for self-determination

It was no surprise that the DUP campaigned in support of Leave in the run-up to the UK’s 2016 EU referendum. Even aside from a generous campaign donation of £425,000 the party received (the origins of which are still unclear) they were always going to be attracted to the extreme British nationalism espoused by the likes of Farage, Rees-Mogg, Johnston and Gove.

Despite their efforts, though, a clear majority in Northern Ireland voted to Remain. But far from the party then adjusting its position to reflect the wishes of the NI electorate, it has continued to pursue Brexit with added zeal. It’s not as if this is some meaningless grandstanding exercise on the part of the DUP. They are crucial to the delivery of Brexit. Such is the political arithmetic at Westminster, there can be no Brexit without their support. Since the referendum the DUP has, in effect, been engaged in bringing about a fundamental change to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland contrary to the democratically expressed wishes of a majority of its people. So much for self-determination for the people of Northern Ireland. So much for the principle of consent.

Ludicrous to claim that NI is the same as other UK regions

Presumably the DUP would argue that Northern Ireland is no different to any other constituent part of the United Kingdom, and they must therefore abide by the overall result of the referendum. This does nothing to explain the zealotry with which the party is pursuing Brexit. Still, that’s almost beside the point when set alongside the ludicrous notion that Northern Ireland is the same as the other UK regions. Where else in the UK do citizens enjoy dual-nationality – Irish and British – as a matter of birthright? What other devolved administration in the UK is legally compelled to operate on a power-sharing basis? And, critically, what other part of the UK has a right to secede and join with another sovereign nation – Ireland – if or when a majority so desires?

Why has no-one ever raised the constitutional implications of its Brexit position with the DUP? Why have Arlene Foster and her cohorts never been asked to outline what they believe to be the benefits to Northern Ireland from leaving the EU? Every reliable indicator (not to mention plain common-sense) tells us that leaving the EU will wreak havoc on Northern Ireland’s economy and the lives of its people. What post-EU benefits for Northern Ireland can the Democratic Unionists possibly have identified that every neutral expert (economic, social, and political) has been blind to?

The backstop as smokescreen

We have all been so consumed by the backstop that no-one has thought to ask the DUP the most fundamental question of all: Why on earth are they prepared to destroy Northern Ireland’s economy, and severely restrict the future opportunities of our children and grandchildren, in order to leave the European Union? Right-wing leanings and a £425,000 handshake can hardly be the sole motivators – and nor are they.

The DUP must be delighted that all eyes remain so unwaveringly fixed on the backstop. For they have indeed identified what, for them, is a major benefit to leaving the EU, but one they dare not name. The truth is, the DUP see in Brexit a golden opportunity to finally destroy the Good Friday Agreement. Or, more specifically, to destroy the gateway it provides to a united Ireland.

Cast your mind back to 1998, when Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson (both then members of the Ulster Unionist Party) walked out of the negotiations at Stormont, in a rage, just hours before the GFA was announced. Their anger was largely centred on unionists agreeing that a simple majority would be enough to take Northern Ireland out of the UK and into a united Ireland. For Foster and Donaldson, this was a bridge too far. They found a home in the DUP, which was and remains implacably opposed to the GFA for the exact same reason. Yes, pragmatism (i.e. self-interest) led the party to eventually take its place in the Northern Ireland Assembly under the fig-leaf of the St. Andrews Agreement but, be under no illusion, its opposition to the 1998 accords remains undiminished.

The DUP realises that the religious and political make up of Northern Ireland has changed to such an extent there could very soon be a majority in favour of a united Ireland. From their perspective, the timing of Brexit, coincident with the party holding a position of previously unimaginable power and influence at Westminster, is perfect.

The post-Brexit orthodoxy

There will be no grand declarations from the DUP on the demise of the GFA. Rather, most of the main elements of our agreement will be left to wither on the vine.

Under the terms of the GFA, it is for a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to allow for a border poll when he or she thinks there may be a majority of people in favour of leaving the United Kingdom and joining with the rest of Ireland. Given the probable extreme nature of post-Brexit UK governments, and the debt they will owe to the DUP (without whom the Brexiteers dream could not have been realised) it is highly unlikely that a British minister would call such a poll, regardless of demographic indicators. Indeed, look no further than the current UK government, and recall that both Boris Johnston and Michael Gove have in the past described the peace process as a defeat for the British government.

Post-Brexit, the DUP may well even press for changes in legislation at Westminster to remove the possibility of a border poll ever being called. The Irish government and the EU would protest, of course, but what could they do to stop a sovereign nation that has “taken back control” from exercising its powers to make new laws and alter or dispense with existing laws? In the orthodoxy of extreme nationalism – as Putin, Trump and various of their ilk have shown – inconvenient laws, agreements, and conventions are there to be ignored or dispensed with at will.

Do the leaders of the DUP not realise that their dumping of the GFA will almost certainly lead to a return to violence in Northern Ireland? Of course they do. But for them, the calculation is simple: either do nothing, and face the prospect of a united Ireland in the very near future; or do everything in their power to destroy the only legitimate vehicle to Irish unity, the GFA. It appears that violence, like the economic hardships Brexit will bring, are for the DUP a price worth paying (mostly by everyone else, of course).

What mandate has the DUP for its actions?

As a unionist, I stand full-square behind the commitments we gave to our nationalist neighbours in the Good Friday Agreement. I am also a committed europhile, appalled by the extreme right-wing contagion, encouraged and assisted by the DUP, that has taken hold of British politics. And I am not alone in my views. The GFA, in all its aspects, was endorsed at referendum by 71.1 per cent of the Northern Ireland electorate. In the 2016 EU Referendum, 55.8 per cent of Northern Ireland voted Remain. The message could not be clearer: on those two issues at least, the Democratic Unionists do not speak or act in the name of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. Yet they are on course to drag Northern Ireland out of an expansive, multi-cultural, liberal-democratic European Union, and lock us forever into an inward-looking, narrow-minded, Trumpian-style United Kingdom. And who is to stop them?

Last year, Arlene Foster declared that in the event of a united Ireland she would “feel so strongly” she would probably leave the country. She’s well on her way to ensuring that such a move won’t be necessary, after all.

A Guest Article by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

26 comments on “A Unionist Perspective On The DUP And Brexit

  1. The author is from a pro-union background in the north and is writing in a personal capacity under the nom de plume of Elizabeth Cady Stanton to express frustration with the DUP’s Brexit policies. I hope and expect the author to be treated with due respect by ASF’s regular readers. We have few enough pro-union views on this site and some more opinions from that background and community would be a very welcome thing indeed, whether in published articles or in the comments. Thanks all!

  2. Anthony Monaghan

    I agree with everything that was said there . For 20 years we have a peace . That can be ruined because of deep hatred . For the first time in my lifetime we get along with our loyalist neighbours . And we must protect that peace

    • I totally agree with the sentiments expressed in the article and those expressed by Anthony. I live in England and don’t have any Irish roots, as far as I know. I despair of the DUP and the right-wing Conservative Government we all endure.

  3. I can’t say I disagree with anything said in the article. It’s nice to see someone from a unionist background admit decommissioning was a red herring. And what Jeffrey and Arlene really opposed was self determination for the North enshrined in the GFA.

  4. Lol, this sounds suspiciously like it was written by Seamus. Ooh, does this mean, Janis the Lithuanian who always played devil’s advocate, will return? He was a great character altogether.

    • LOL! You know that you can literally look up Jānis on Twitter? Where he tweets. In Latvian. You really need to get out more, my friend 😀

      • gendjinn

        Cultural Marxists are renowned for the quality and depth of their cover identities.

        But learning Latvian, that takes it to a whole new level. Much respect to you ASF. Much respect.

      • My read on him is that he was hard on you, on a bunch of other people, and on political factions in various countries that he doesn’t know as much about as he likes to think…he seemed to perceive them as more pro-Communist than is/was really the case.

    • Having looked at some of the old posts, it was often hard to say if he was in earnest or just playing devil’s advocate.

  5. Jim Lacey

    A very good assessment of how we could envisage how we could and should be able to work out an agreed Ireland where we could live in peace and harmony and perhaps prosperity. Unfortunately we have bigots on both sides who would rather keep us apart and seem to favour fratricide over fraternity. We can and will work together we all love our beautiful island home. It will take a little time and a lot of patience the bud of peace may take a while to flower but when it does all the work will be well worth it.

  6. Anthony Monaghan

    This was written by a Unionist in the north Nicola

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  7. Jim McGettigan

    Very well written, thought provoking and balanced with an overwhelmingly positive reaction towards a guest contributor. Hope is alive and well.

  8. It was always obvious that these non-fanatic unionists existed. Perhaps they weren’t always visible in international media and like moderates in a lot of places lost out in terms of political representation. Ha! What a choice of Pen Name!!!

    One obvious point is that from a certain POV, the GFA did give Northern Ireland a rather charmed political situation. Even if it wasn’t what many people had in mind going in.

    People always compared Brexit to Trump, but all debates about how similar are different those sets of voters are (I think they have more in common with right-winged populists in South America in many, many ways that Europeans tend to miss), there is one non-disputable difference. Trump is time-limited. Trump has an absolute expiry date-unless he stages a coup d’etat.

  9. Setting aside the legacy bitterness of the sectarianism deliberately injected into Ireland what right thinking individual would want to return to an island divided by a border.

    Identify checks, goods checks, stop and search squads, it just doesn’t make sense. Moreover, given the legacy of the north, and the message that the re-establishment of a border between them and us, it doesn’t take a genius to recognise where this will all head.

    Times have changed in NI as this insightful piece brings out. Yes there may be two traditions, yes there may still be bigots, but save for the hardliners and the minority DuP artificially elevated because of their current holding of the balance of power in Westminster, folks in the North can live together as one – and they are doing it.

    The British identity is dying in NI. That is why 71.1% of NI citizens voted for the GFA and 55.8% for remaining in Europe. NI citizens want more, they want quality of life, the right to freedom, the right to develop their economy, the right to live in peace. You don’t get that building walls and ripping the island apart as rump Britannia takes on the rest of Europe.

    The British identity in Scotland is already dead in Scotland. Nearly fifty percent of Scotland’s electorate voted for independence back in 2014. If Boris Johnson thinks he can deny Scotland the right to independence, force it back into the Union, then he is dreadfully wrong. That is why after visiting the First Minister at Bute House earlier this week he had to slink out the backdoor on his leaving. Just think about that – the mighty English prime minister having to slink out the backdoor. But that was the modus operandi of his visit to Scotland – a secret agenda of visits. At least he felt at home when he was safe within England’s very own Guantanamo Bay that is the nuclear base at Faslane in Argyll.

    Surrounded by military, nuclear armed submarines, and the most heavily fortified fencing in Europe, our man was now home and at peace with his lethal weaponry.

    But yes, change is coming. Ireland could be united and there would I think be no problem. In many ways it is just now, and staying within the EU aids that. Similarly, a Scotland out of the UK and part of the EU further aids that. An independent Scotland within Europe would sit very well with an independent Ireland within Europe. A conduit to and from mainland Europe the synergies would be huge – and yes, in Scotland 63% voted to remain in the EU so the political direction is clear.

    So let us all hope that between us all in Ireland and Scotland we can make the political decision for peace, prosperity and respect for all – and let the bitter Brexiteers get on with it.

  10. When all is said and done, the British mentality of implacable opposition to Celtic spirituality, holistic relationships and multicultural inclusive national culture is dressed up as “fuss and bloody nonsense” at best, “popery” at worst.

    Too many bigots have worked to undermine our future. The price they will play is their deserved extinction.

  11. Wouldnt Ireland have a wonderful future if we could all work and live harmoniously together on this Island, despite any difference we may have, real or imagined. We have made a goodHeres to the future start and have come a long way since the troubles T.G. and are leaving the past behind…

    • Anthony Monaghan

      I agree with you fred . Its so important for our children and grandchildren to know a peace that i never knew growing up . Children are not born with hatred. They learn that from their elders

  12. Anthony Monaghan

    It’s so sad to see what is happening and basically its to do with greed . And ignorance also disrespect for other people who the wealthy and powerful have totally no respect. To them the poor people of this world do not matter

  13. Reblogged this on raggededgehouse and commented:
    Absolutely saying it how it is!

  14. civic-critic

    It is statistically unlikely that at just this moment, of all moments, when the British are engaged in negotiations over Ireland with Europe over the future of Ireland that, by sheer coincidence, a small party representing the British interest in Ireland is raised to hold the balance of power.

    If you think ‘that’s just the way the numbers worked out’ then I have a bridge to sell you. This, what looks like, deliberate fix would also explain the DUP’s attitude that so perplexes the unionist lady in the article above.

    This is the nature of the British game in Ireland, it is entirely consistent with history and indeed almost predictable. Just as Home Rule was dragged out over 40 years, put on the books, immediately suspended and then effecttively rescinded by WW1 followed by attacks in Ireland, so it is the British way in Ireland to drag the people through decades of constitutionalism flanneled round with promises and hope to ultimately be suspended, followed by British attacks.

    So it was in 1829 when, with great fanfare, they granted Catholic Emacipation but somehow managed to do it in a way that disenfranchised the majority of those who had had some access to a franchise, followed within 20 years by the killing of millions.

    So it was in 1880 when they introduced the first land acts and by 1900 hadn’t even fulfilled granting land to the piffling 30,000 native landholders who were supposed to have had it. The real land exchange only began in 1903 with the Wyndham Act.

    So it was from 1829-1840 when numerous debates, commissions, two parliamentary enquiries and sustained political campaigns eventually allowed the embryonic catholic bourgeoisie, after tremendous lobbying and efforts, to earn the right to pick up the horse shit and control the lighting in the streets of Dublin.

    This is the British game in Ireland. And it works in every generation because the majority of people are too well meaning and naive and too desperately hopeful to understand, or to want to understand, what they are dealing with.

    The British interest in Ireland is geostrategic. That interest is now growing not declining.

    At a moment when the difference between the two sides in the north is 20,000-30,000 votes at most, when that proportion had been growing in the nationalist direction steadily and when more catholic children are in the schools now than protestants – at such a moment you would think that some recognition of this reality is given, some preparation given to a united Ireland given the inevitability and the numbers tomorrow and today.

    But what do we see? The elevation in a manner that looks fixed of the British nationalist position in Ireland with zero sense of concessions or compromise, in a manner that clearly and recklessly threatens peace.

    This indicates British intentions towards Ireland are undemocratic, increasingly aggressive and we all know from history what this really means. The geostratic cannot be wished away; if they proceed with Brexit their 19th and early 20th century geostrategic exigences become active again.

    They will want joint authority or re-partition – out to the next 30-50 years at least. The southern Irish management class may feel they can satisfy the British requirements while juggling all their other plates – hence inviting Drew Harris to take over the guards, British personnel taking over RTÉ and all the British banking interests moving into Ireland to retain a presence in the EU and therefore have a greater influence in our country than they’ve had for a century. This may not be enough for the British who may prefer to assure their continuation in Ireland by more direct means which they control without compromise – repartition.

    In any case most of the commentary is very naive and infantile, this from grown men and women who say they have an interest in and understand politics. Time to grow up and look hard at what’s actually occurring.

  15. Anybody got any opinions on Fintan O’Tooles modest proposal that SF resign it’s seven seats at Westminster.
    And let independent candidates endorsed by the pro remain parties in the North win the subsequent by-elections. They can then take the seats and block brexit.

    • I think it reflects O’Toole’s naivety about politics and party politics in particular. As political ideas go, it’s hopelessly unrealistic and just plain silly. It also displays his occasional tenuous grasp on human nature or his wildly optimistic belief in the better angels of our nature and all that rhetoric.

      The last time he fell for his own rhetoric he nearly went and put it to the test in an election. Until he realised how unlikely it was to work.

      He can offer some challenging analysis of politics and the political or cultural zeitgeist. But his solutions to problems are sometimes challenging in a whole other way.

      • The plan is a crazy Hail Mary Pass, if there ever was one.

        Fintan O’Toole is sort of styling himself as an Irish Webb DuBois. People have often said Web DuBois is “The Sigmund Freud of American race relations.” (Many others have followed the same tradition and gone further off the rails.) By that they mean a very intelligent man, who has come up with a bunch of original and brilliant conclusion that….still ring false to most people and don’t always hold up to examination. O’Toole seems to be playing a very similar sort of game.

        To me the idea of saying alternative histories with a Nazi victory and English punk alike are “sadomasochistic fantasies” is sort of ridiculous. To me while we can never know an alternate scenario for sure……I see a Nazi Victory as something that could have been possible. The Third Reich could have created a nuclear bomb (there is a lot of eerie recent evidence that they were closer than believed), The USSR could have run out of resources, British intelligence (both the spies and enigma project) could have had more setback and fewer lucky breaks, The US might have been less successful at building up its military from where it was in 1930 (about the size of Poland’s) and/or faced a Japanese invasion on The West Coast. Some have argued luck played a bigger role than we acknowledge in the US avoiding a regional famine in the 1930s, which could have undermined her ability to protect herself and contribute to the defeat of The Nazis.

        If O’Toole uses The British Empire as a reason to think Britain couldn’t have been occupied, than how come exactly that happened to France and Belgium?

        Yes, historians hate counterfactuals and it probably wouldn’t have been like “The Man in High Castle”. However, I think O’Toole is really going off the rails on both that theory and on the idea that punk is sadomasochism-even though I’m not big on punk. i know alternate histories that have the Third Reich invading Britain (and Ireland with it), keeping large parts of Europe and North Africa….while remaining a world power at least as long as the USSR was…….fricking scare the shit out of me!!!! Calling that masochistic fantasy is like hearing a Freudian talking about how all women have rape fantasies.

  16. The possible candidates he names some have SDLP connections one has SF connections. Nuala O’Loan married to a former SDLP politician. Mary McAlesse FF politician. Adrian Dunbar actor with SF connections.

    • Yeah but in realpolitik it would never fly. The DUP, UUP, TUV etc will go all pan-unionist. The Remain parties, SDLP, Alliance, would use it to oust SF at the next normal election by boasting of how the voters needed representation in Westminster, and look what happened when they had it, etc etc. Such a pact would never work and if it did SF would be committing future electoral suicide.

      It’s just Get-Alonger, normalise the North, normalise partition, vaguely anti-SF daydreaming by O’Toole. Like, it’s been taken up by Mick Fealty on SO’T. Great guy, but his politics is all of the above.

      If Fintan O’Toole was for real he’d be advocating a backstop referendum in the north to counter the BoJo/Brexiteer case in GB. Or local council motions in the 6 Cos backing the backstop. Or something realistic.

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