Brexit: The failure of unionism

Another year has passed, and Brexit, like the pandemic, appears to be with us for ever.

The Government, in the person of the minister for foreign affairs, Simon Coveney, continues to speak and act as if the Southern establishment have real or significant influence in the negotiations between the European Union and the British government on the terms and conditions of the divorce settlement between the two.

The stumbling-block would appear to be the role of the EU Court of Justice as the final arbiter on EU law and regulations. Coveney continues to present himself as a “player” on the chessboard of diplomacy, speaking as if his words mean something or have an impact. He gave a relatively positive assessment of critical talks between the two sides, led by Britain’s “Brexit” minister, David Frost, and the vice-president of the EU Commission, Maroš Šefčovič.

In all these international trade agreements there are quasi-courts of international arbitration as a central part of the agreements for settling disputes. But they are not courts—such as the District Court or the High Court that we know—but are more like the Special Criminal Court, or the old “Diplock” courts, where many appeared on trumped-up charges.

These “international courts of arbitration” are strictly for arbitrating between states and big monopoly corporations. The imperialist countries and blocs, such as the United States, the European Union and Britain, use them to bully and to leverage against small, economically weaker countries.

The British don’t want the ECJ as the final arbiter on matters with the EU, because they know that, for a change, the cards are stacked against them. The EU wants the ECJ to be the final arbiter, because it’s the ace in their hand.

Any weakening of the ECJ would be a significant weakening of the evolving federalist structures of the EU and would weaken the power of European monopoly capitalism. The ECJ is a cornerstone of this plan, the means of imposing EU directives and treaties. It protects the “interests of the market.”

These negotiations will conclude with a deal, regardless of the pretended input from Coveney or this bankrupt Government. They are mere pawns and useful fools for imperialism to practise on. The British continue to threaten to trigger article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, on the grounds of defending the territorial integrity of the “UK.” It’s simply all about what will be the “special relationship” that Britain has with the EU.

Britain wants maximum access to the EU market, with as few restrictions as possible, while the EU wants a reciprocal arrangement but can’t appear to let the British go unpunished for Brexit, which has destabilised the whole imperial bloc. Nobody is going to get out of the EU jail scot-free and unpunished: they have to make an example to the other imprisoned nations and peoples.

Meanwhile unionism, and in particular the DUP, stumbles around under the burden of its old illusion: that it actually has influence in London, that its opinions matter, or that it is part of the greater “British nation.”

The DUP started out demanding that the whole protocol be scrapped. They dumped Foster, then elected Potts as a strong man to get the protocol scrapped; he was quickly ousted by Donaldson to get the job done, but in fact he was put in to stop the whole DUP imploding as an electoral machine.

Donaldson threatened to pull out of the Northern Executive and bring the institutions down by the end of November. November has passed, and the DUP are still working the institutions. The Executive and Assembly will cease in effect anyway in March, and new elections will take place in May, as scheduled. Donaldson’s position is reduced to getting rid of the “Irish Sea border.”

Donaldson’s DUP, like the rest of unionism, are mere bystanders, reading the papers like everyone else to see what may or may not be happening in the continuing saga that is the British-EU divorce settlement. He has now reduced the DUP’s position to “The sea border must go” rather than the protocol itself. He is attempting to position unionism as having secured something in relation to the outcome of the talks, of having influence.

It is now agreed by both the British and the EU that there should be minimum checks on goods crossing to the North of Ireland through British ports. So, out of significant defeat for unionism the DUP wants to enter the forthcoming election with a pretend victory under its belt and the protocol scalp secured. Was it ever otherwise, with unionism living off the scraps of imperialism and feeding its supporters illusions of superiority.

The Orange Order opened up its doors to get people to sign its petition calling for the scrapping of the protocol. It was first put up on line, but very few signed it, bringing it down to the grass roots, where people are more susceptible to arm-twisting and bullying—the hallmarks of the Orange Order.

The leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, Billy Hutchinson, said at their recent conference that they could no longer support the Belfast Agreement if the protocol remains. A few weeks later one of the chief spokespersons for the PUP, John Kelly, was reduced to calling for the removal of the “Irish Sea border,” while the leader of Traditional Unionist Voice, Jim Alister, has been left on his own, swinging in the breeze, with his legal challenge to the protocol.

The campaign by the “Loyalist Community Council,” a front for loyalist paramilitaries, petered out, reduced to burning a few buses and a demonstration by a couple of hundred paramilitaries and supporters being addressed by one of the leaders standing on a wheelie-bin.

Unionist calls and campaigns against the protocol have failed to deliver, while those influenced by unionism in the past must look on in dismay and wait until May to pass their verdict, when the most likely beneficiaries will be the Alliance Party.

Sinn Féin meanwhile continues to appeal to its gallant allies abroad, in the form of EU and US imperialism, to back its position. The Irish Government whistles in the dark outside the negotiating room, responding to whatever whispers may leak from under the door.

History keeps repeating itself. Imperialism doesn’t have friends, only interests. And it’s getting plenty of practice on the fools of Irish nationalism and unionism.