There could be many important political consequences following this week’s Windsor Agreement. They include (hopefully) the beginning of the UK’s return to the European Union, the waning influence of the Democratic Unionist Party, their Tory Spartan fellow travellers and Boris Johnson and a boost for the Prime Minister as he tries to close the gap on Labour.
RETURN TO THE EU
While the damage to our trade and businesses done by Brexit might be a bit difficult for everyone to grasp, the supermarket shelves stripped of salad vegetables might start to bring home the message that leaving the EU was a bad mistake from the boardroom to the High Street.
During Johnson’s premiership our relations with Europe were poisoned by bombastic rhetoric and downright lies over the Northern Ireland Protocol. It has taken Rishi Sunak to start treating our nearest neighbours with respect. He tells us he’s a Brexiteer but he has initiated a process which Remainers can use to get us back into the EU. Respectful negotiations have not only improved the movement of goods between the UK and Northern Ireland, but opened the door to cooperation on science programmes and easing the movement of performers and students between the bloc and the UK. Under a Labour government these moves to closer links can logically lead to re-joining the Single Market and Customs Union and thence full membership. Voters will love it as the supermarket shelves fill, trade flourishes and we regain our reputation as a serious player on the European stage.
BREAK THE SHACKLES OF ULTRA UNIONISM
The Democratic Unionists are under intense pressure to resume power sharing but I’m not sure they will do it. The EU have been ultra reasonable but that’s not the only issue. There has been a lack of reporting on the elephant in the DUP’s room, the fact that Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill would be First Minister.
If the DUP refuse to reactivate the Assembly, they may be punished in the local elections in May and the government should be forced to the conclusion that power sharing is dead under the present arrangements. They should consider drastic action to support parties willing to give the province proper government. This might be by Direct Rule or a coalition of the willing.
Tory hardliners, potentially led by Johnson’s careerist motivations, will protest but hopefully they will be seen as irrelevant extremists who do not have the best interests of Northern Ireland at heart.
BOOST FOR SUNAK
Up to now the Prime Minister has been accused of being more a technocrat than a politician. Pulling off the Windsor Agreement has shown he is up to the difficult task of striking political deals.
He will now be compared favourably with his two predecessors whose strategy was to pick fights with the EU.
There was a threat brewing to his leadership from an alliance of Brexit spartans and tax cutters which he now may be able to see off. Labour got a boost last week with Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation. The Windsor Agreement could mean a narrowing of the opinion poll lad they have been enjoying.