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I wouldn't expect the DUP's standing in the polls next May to be quite as bad as its opinion poll numbers in the wake of the Poots debacle. Some recovery under the leadership of Jeffrey Donaldson seems likely. With the UUP poll numbers under a new (and more moderate) leader, Doug Beattie, also improving slightly, there will be a real dogfight for the leadership of the unionist community.

It is important that the EU, in the interim, doesn't give oxygen to anti-protocol sentiment by taking a hard line on the ending of grace periods. Being for or against the protocol is becoming a proxy for being for or against a united Ireland which places the moderate unionist Alliance party in a difficult position. It supports the constitutional status quo but also values the opportunities the protocol gives Northern Ireland to act as a bridge between the UK internal and EU single markets.

Apparently, enquiries from companies seeking to set up in N. Ireland to service both the UK and EU markets are increasing significantly, which gives N. Ireland an opportunity to recoup some of the economic ground it has lost in recent decades through the closure of the shipbuilding, linen, and bus building industries. Why look a gift horse in the mouth, if I may switch from a canine to an equine metaphor?

This means that the Alliance Party is the key swing vote in determining whether the protocol is maintained in the long term. With N. Ireland one of the poorest regions of the UK, it makes sense for a pro-union party to seek to bolster the economic performance of N. Ireland as a way to demonstrate that being part of the UK can work to the benefit of all its citizens. So long as N. Ireland is seen as a failing economic state, the clamour for a united Ireland can only increase.

Conversely Sinn Fein, and its predecessor, the IRA, are often seen as trying to ensure that the Northern Ireland economy and polity cannot succeed, in order to force the debate on a united Ireland as the only viable alternative. Paradoxically, however, many southern Irish voters may baulk at the prospect of a united Ireland if it means massive subventions are required to support the N. Ireland economy. The net British exchequer subvention to N. Ireland is variously estimated at €10 to €13 Billion per annum, a figure that would very substantially reduce southern living standards if it became the responsibility of the Irish exchequer.

Sinn Fein argues that the need for much of this subvention would disappear in a united Ireland, as the cost of a large nuclear capable military industrial complex would no longer have to be borne by N. Ireland citizens, and as economic policies more suited to Northern needs would be pursued by an Irish government. If Ireland can succeed economically, why not N. Ireland with the same or better governance?

Nationalist sentiment is also often not driven by calculations of economic advantage, as Brexiteers know only too well. However the chances of a constitutional referendum on a united Ireland being passed in the south can only be improve if the perceived costs of re-unification are seen to have a prospect of reducing as time goes on. This requires that the N. Ireland economy recovers from its current backwater status, and being in the frontline between the EU and UK markets may be a good way to achieve that.

The EU could have another success story on its hands, ensuring peace, stability and economic prosperity for a region that didn't leave the EU ambit entirely and which may one day seek to rejoin by re-unifying with Ireland. So it is important for the EU to play a long game and not be provoked by the antics of Lord Frost et al whose real objective is not to help N. Ireland, but to advance English Brexiteer interest in a confrontational relationship with the EU. That and to create precedents for increasing British access to the Single Market without the costs of EU membership.

Brexiteers are still trying to have their cake and eat it, and if that means provoking violence in N. Ireland so be it. Who, it England, really cares?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Aug 20th, 2021 at 08:33:48 AM EST

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