Despite the numerous media claims to the contrary, by both optimists and apologists, there is very little evidence that the Democratic Unionist Party is softening its opposition to the Backstop Protocol in the Draft Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, or indeed the proposed treaty as a whole. On the contrary, the DUP is playing a game of appearing flexible to the more gullible or unionist-sympathising sections of the press in Ireland and the UK while sticking to its consistently reiterated “blood red line”. Though some have argued that Arlene Foster and company are actually hoping to avoid the imposition of a new “hard border” between the north-east and the rest of the country, while maintaining their reputation as Brexit enthusiasts, there is a strong impression that a significant chunk of the party’s membership is more than comfortable with the idea of a “partition 2.0”. Indeed, it is worth remembering that Foster and her closest allies hail from the anti-peace process camp in the unionist community, defecting in the early 2000s from the Ulster Unionist Party to Ian Paisley’s more extreme grouping over their opposition to the political dispensation that followed the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
So when RTÉ splashed the contents of London’s proposed – and knowingly unworkable – solution to the ongoing Brexit impasse you can be fairly sure that the DUP was in the loop well beforehand and is moving in lockstop with the ascendant Brexiteer bloc of the governing Conservative Party. The suggested deal, with its references to “customs clearance centres” or posts manned by customs officers on either side of the border, is a complete non-starter as far as Dublin and Brussels is concerned, and breaks a previous commitment from Britain to avoid anything that risks the Irish-British peace process. Any type of infrastructure on or near the boundary around the Six Counties will inevitably become the subject of protests and perhaps worse, leading to the creeping securitisation or outright militarisation of the most troubled areas. Far from being a step forward, the UK discussion documents submitted to the EU are a step backwards towards a dark and dismal past.
A past some in the DUP found politically easier to live with than the present.