One of the more enjoyable aspects of last week was watching the mental gymnastics of Arlene Foster and other representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party as they toured the domestic and international news rooms, condemning the post-transition deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union as a threat to the constitutional status of “Northern Ireland” while simultaneously claiming it as a “gateway of opportunity” for the region. In reality, the DUP has used the turbulence of the last four years to inadvertently shit all over the UK constitutional bed and is now trying to deny any responsibility for the bed-shitting while at the same time claiming that the addition of shit actually enhances the overall performance of the bed.
Of course all sorts of excuses are being trotted out by DUP apologists in the Irish and British press to explain away the obfuscation of the last few days and we still hear the tired old tale that the hardline pro-union party did not intend for all this to happen when it opted to support Brexit back in 2016. That Foster and company are the real victims here. Which is its own form of bullshit. Some of us remember that the Fermanagh politician joined Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists because of her opposition to the Good Friday Agreement and that a far more plausible explanation is that she and her colleagues saw the anti-EU referendum as an opportunity to undermine the regional and international peace accords of 1998. To put teeth on the toothless border between the UK rump colony in the north-east of the island and the rest of the country.
Simply put, the DUP gambled everything on the return of a hard border via Britain’s withdrawal from Europe and lost. Instead the Conservative Party government in London saw the unionist minority in Ireland as nothing more than a useful pawn in its own high-stakes game of diplomatic chess and a piece it was content to sacrifice in order to secure a stalemate of sorts with its opponents. Which of course is how the Good Friday Agreement came about in the first place. And the Anglo-Irish Agreement before that. And the Sunningdale Agreement before that. And the Anglo-Irish Treaty before that. And… Well, you get the picture, even if most unionist leaders don’t.
The new focus by Arlene Foster on the promised mechanism in the EU-UK withdrawal agreement theoretically giving the cross-community assembly at Stormont the power to remove the Six Counties from the arrangement in four years time clearly indicates her own thinking on the unionist way forward (while contradicting her own “gateway” spin). As do renewed calls by the DUP and its journalistic allies for a pro-union electoral pact to ensure an anti-EU voting majority in Stormont. Hopefully that particular nightmare scenario will fail to materialise and instead the only vote we will witness will be one demanding a reunification referendum in the north from the UK authorities. Giving the history of successive British governments over the last century acquiescing to that demand seems more likely than not.