It’s crunch time again. This Brexit saga has had more crunch times than a taste tester for Maltesers. Parliament will, at some stage during this extraordinary Saturday sitting, vote to endorse or reject the deal Boris Johnson brought back from Brussels a couple of days ago. I can’t say how I think the vote will go, for there so many caprices amongst the rabble we are cursed to have representing us in the Commons. All I’m willing to do here is to expand upon the decision I took the other night not to support this particular Brexit deal.
First off, there can be no defence of the argument that Johnson’s deal is Theresa May’s reheated Withdrawal Agreement with a touch of porcine lipstick applied. It categorically isn’t. I’ll admit it’s far from the clean break Brexit so many of us were hoping for, but it’s not May 2. For Great Britain, it represents a significantly harder Brexit than May cooked up, or even wanted to cook up. And had this agreement covered the whole Kingdom, I would have been the first on social media this morning imploring MPs to back it. But it doesn’t. You’ll notice I used the term ‘Great Britain’. That is NOT the United Kingdom. The difference, of course, being Northern Ireland.
When I voted for Brexit, I voted for the entire UK to quit the European Union. There was nothing on the ballot paper about leaving bits of it still entangled in the EU’s legal framework. We entered the then EEC as one country in 1973; we should depart as one country when Brexit day finally arrives. A lot of folk, especially in England, will roll their eyes at what they see is the usual Ulster intransigence. They conveniently forget that, had the DUP not been the staunch allies of Conservatism these past two years the country might have been cursed with the reality of a Corbyn government! For that loyalty they have been shafted. It’s not a good look, Boris, not matter how you try to dress it up.
I’m a Unionist. It’s what defines me politically above all else. East Antrim is just as much part of my country as East Lothian or East Sussex. I have an association with the province going back 25 years. I’ve probably been to more places in Northern Ireland than most of the folk who live there. Yes, I’ve walked through the Tollymore Forest Park, driven the Antrim Coast Road, strolled down the winding road leading to Giant’s Causeway, taken coffee and cake in Armagh city, climbed the ridiculously steep pathways of Belfast Zoo. However, I’ve also stood at Drumcree field in solidarity with the Orangemen back in 1998, canvassed alongside Nigel Dodds in Tigers Bay for the Forum elections in 1996, campaigned against the Belfast Agreement in Belfast and Bangor, been a personal friend of former Unionist MP Bob McCartney for 24 years, ran a gauntlet of abuse from the delightful darlings of the Short Strand whilst watching an Orange parade at the end of the Lower Newtownards Road. My Unionism is certainly not the armchair variety.
Perhaps the passage of time will prove me wrong on what this deal means for Northern Ireland. I sincerely hope so. Though for now, I can imagine the sense of hurt and sadness many households across the province will feel this morning. Because ever since the Anglo-Irish Agreement of November 1985, London’s Ulster strategy has always been to betray those most loyal to this country by satiating those who most loathe it. I feel this deal is part of that mould. Thus, I will not support something that effectively says the British citizenship of a person in Helen’s Bay is worth less than my own British citizenship here in Halifax.