23 February 2021
Bangers and Brexit: The Politics of the Absurd - Ciaran Quinn
"But change is coming. The Protocol does not change the constitutional position, but a unity referendum will" - Ciaran Quinn
The Union faces an existential crisis and it’s all down to the Great British Banger. To be more precise checks at ports to ensure animal welfare and food safety. But it seems calls to lower standards do not have the same ring as “Save the Sausage”.
In the fight to save the union, the six-county sausage, has been emasculated by Unionists as not British enough.
The union is on a knife-edge and unionist anger is about to spontaneously combust over sausages, flowers, and muck on the wheels of tractors. So let's step this back.
First, there have always been checks at the ports of entry. Brexit means there will be more of them. So, checks are not a point of high principle but a process to be managed. Take the example of live animal checks as supported by the DUP. A common-sense approach to stop the spread of diseases like Foot and Mouth. As Ian Paisley once said, “We are British, but our cows are Irish.” Our cows roamed free in a borderless Ireland and the union was not undermined.
There was the option to avoid Brexit checks. Theresa May planned to maintain regulations and standards in line with the EU. So no additional checks. The DUP voted against that and sided with Boris Johnston.
Then there is the claim that the Protocol creates a difference with Britain. The north has suddenly become a separate entity; a place apart. The DUP had no problem with different laws from Britain when it comes to women’s health, marriage equality, etc. Devolution is about the difference.
We are told that the actions of the British Government undermine the union. Surely there is nothing more unionist than Westminster legislating for the whole of Britain and the North. It is the Union in action. And also why it must go.
Peter Robinson, the former leader of the DUP posed the questions to unionists of how you oppose something while simultaneously imposing it. So the options for Unionists are; pull down Stormont (in the knowledge that the British Government would administer the Protocol) or get on with it. Drawing on the judgment of Pontius Pilate, Peter offered no advice.
This isn’t about sausages or the Protocol or even the union.
It is about the state of Unionism. Political unionism has not embraced the changes of the Good Friday Agreement. Despite it being endorsed by the majority, the DUP, on principle, continues to refuse to support the Agreement. The DUP is now threatening court action because Brexit undermines the principles of the same Agreement. The politics of the absurd.
The Assembly and the Executive that meets in Stormont is different from all that went before it. The automatic unionist majority is gone. Brexit was rejected by the majority of people and their political representatives.
It is not the protocol or a sausage that is the crisis. It is the demographic change and the changing place of unionism that has created a crisis.
The DUP position on Brexit has been exposed. As Brexit plays out other issues will emerge not related to food safety checks, such as the impact on Financial Services, the loss of CAP payments, and other EU funding. This is just the start of the Brexit mess.
The DUP failed to use its power and leverage at Westminster for the good of the people. It appears that after supporting the Tories they now have fewer friends and less influence. Left to plead for a Westminster singalong of the Sash only to be met by a Tory Minister threatening the Fields of Athenry.
So now the DUP and unionism are doing what they do. Manufacture an enemy, claim the union is in danger, call for unionist unity, raise the threat of violence and circle the wagons. And the circle is getting tighter. None of this will change the unionist position; only further destabilise the situation and increase the possibility of a violent response.
Unionist leaders increasing tension and playing the threat of violence is not new. Their recent attempt to close Larne and Belfast ports has been exposed as the actions of a desperate DUP. Closing ports in protest at fake food shortages seems to sum up the current Unionism strategy.
Unionist paramilitaries remain active and have a seat at the unionist table. Unionist leaders over the years have lit the fuse and walked away. It is working-class unionists that go to jail and gain criminal records. While unionist political leaders wash their hands of their responsibility.
Unionist political leaders must make clear in word and deed their commitment to entirely peaceful and democratic means.
Republicans cannot fill the leadership deficient in Unionism. We have to deal with it.
Now is the time for calm heads and measured actions to manage the protocol. All of this is the outworking of Brexit.
The protocol is part of an international trade agreement between the EU and the British Government. It is supported by the US as the way to avoid a hard border in Ireland. Undoubtedly there are problems to be overcome but business and distribution lines will adjust, the regulatory processes will evolve.
The Withdrawal Agreement and Protocol were signed in the self-interest of the British Government. No amount of posturing or threats by unionism will change that fact.
Brexit fundamentally changes the relationship between the Island of Ireland and Britain. Unionism has a choice to make; recognise and manage the process of change or deepen the crisis.
But change is coming. The Protocol does not change the constitutional position, but a unity referendum will.
Last line on politics and sausages. SuperQuinn made great sausages. SuperQuinn is gone. Consigned to history. But their sausages were so popular they live on. They still have a place on the plate beside Kerry bacon, Clonakilty black pudding, potatoes farls and soda bread. I’m sure there is a message in there somewhere for unionism.