Lord Empey: Growing Intolerance Within Unionism for Differing Points of View

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Lord Empey: Growing Intolerance Within Unionism for Differing Points of View

Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey said:

“Unionism had always had different approaches to problems within its ranks, and this is both healthy and normal. But in recent months, I have noticed that tolerance for difference has decreased.

“For example, Unionists have different views on how the Protocol/Windsor Framework should be addressed. The DUP and others say that boycotting Stormont is the only way to lever change. Other Unionists, me included, believe that boycott has failed and is harmful to unionist interests. We have been described as ‘collaborators’ by politicians who should know better. This is the sort of language Republicans would have used in times gone by to describe other nationalists. To link those who see a different path out of this mess with the Vichy regime in World War 2 France is both dangerous and insulting.

“That the Protocol and Windsor Framework represent serious threats to our long-term constitutional position is undeniable.

“How we got here is a story of strategic failure on an unprecedented scale.

“We are in this mess because of an ill thought through Brexit. The negotiations conducted by London with Brussels between 2017 and 2019 were the worst performance of UK statecraft in living memory.

“That these negotiations occurred while the government was kept in power by DUP support is incredible.

“It is little wonder that in a recent interview, former DUP leader Arlene Foster declared that her biggest regret was not to have pulled the plug on her confidence and supply deal with the Conservative Party. This deal continued after the departure of Theresa May to the Premiership of Boris Johnson. On 2nd October 2019, Arlene and all her Parliamentary colleagues endorsed Johnson’s proposal to Brussels for a border in the Irish Sea, the erection of border inspection posts at Northern Ireland Ports, and the continuing application of EU law in this place describing Boris’s proposals as ’a serious and sensible way forward.’ The document which contained these proposals was entitled ‘Explanatory Note’ and, in its seven pages, laid the foundation of what, 15 days later, became the Protocol. 

“The DUP, therefore, had accepted the principle of a border in the Irish Sea, checks on goods coming from Great Britain and an ongoing role for the EU Court. Just read the document.

“I do not doubt for one minute the DUP's commitment to unionism, but I do say that they have made a series of strategic errors for which unionism is paying a huge price. I believe that within unionism, I ought to be able to say so without a torrent of abuse challenging my loyalty.

“The admission from Sir Jeffrey Donaldson that elements within his own party are causing damage to the DUP is astonishing, but I accept that it is true.

“Unionism is coming yet again to another crossroads. The status quo cannot continue.

“My party warned what would happen to us with an ill thought through Brexit, but the loudest protests about the Protocol and its successor are the same people who charged into Brexit without a plan. 

“Although DUP MPs have had a virtual monopoly on Unionist representation at Westminster for nearly 20 years, I often wonder if they really can read Parliament. In 2019 they threw their lot in with the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs. When push came to shove that year, every one of the ERG MPs voted for the Protocol!

“In the current Parliament, 95% of both Houses have effectively endorsed the Windsor Framework. Rishi Sunak sees it as one of his biggest successes!

“I am a Member of the Lords Committee that reported last week on the WF. The report gives an unvarnished view of the progress made since 2019, but the mountain is still to be climbed.

“Of the following, I can be sure: the DUPs so-called seven tests can never be met in full; whatever scraps of legislative comfort that Chris Heaton Harris may offer, the fundamentals of the Windsor Framework will not be changed.

“Under these circumstances, unionism must reflect on the corner into which we have been painted. We cannot continue to be a steadily declining entity seen as failing to deliver for people while they face huge social and economic challenges.

“There is another way, and there must be a frank conversation about how we extricate ourselves from a mess that leaves Sinn Fein laughing all the way to the political bank.”