Colum Eastwood says he would be 'looking at British Government treatment' if he was a unionist
Colum Eastwood has said he would be 'looking closely at how the British Government treats him' if he was a unionist while blaming the DUP for the Protocol due to its support for a hard-Brexit.
Mr. Eastwood was speaking during the passage of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill at Westminster on Monday night.
"I hear a lot in this House about the precious Union and how this is all about the Union. Where is the Prime Minister or even his Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when a key part of that supposedly precious Union, the Executive of the devolved Administration of Northern Ireland, has collapsed?
"Nowhere to be seen is the Prime Minister of this precious United Kingdom. If I was a Unionist in Northern Ireland today—I can assure the House I am not—I would be looking very closely at how this Government treat them.
"To be honest, I find it quite shocking we are in this position today. One of the things that has led us to this position is that the Prime Minister, the former Brexit Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have been promising to trigger article 16 for months.
"Of course, the protocol was part of the withdrawal agreement that this Prime Minister negotiated, signed and told everybody was fantastic. But what is worse about all this is that the DUP actually believed him. I have a four-year-old who would not have believed him.
"It is astonishing that, after all of this, the DUP, which championed Brexit—it’s all one United Kingdom referendum, we all have to leave together, we were told—[Interruption.] Then there was an opportunity—[Interruption.]
"Members really want to listen, Mr Deputy Speaker. Then there was an opportunity to stop a border in the Irish sea by voting for the whole of the United Kingdom to stay in the customs union and single market.
"The DUP rejected it. [Interruption.] I hear, 'That wasn’t Brexit.' Well, maybe it is about time that the DUP chose between the purest version of Brexit and the Union they profess to love. Now we have a protocol that had to be put in place because the DUP and others forced the hand of a previous Prime Minister into ensuring there would be a border in the Irish sea."
Mr. Eastwood claimed none of this was a surprise.
"Many of us, people of a nationalist persuasion and people of no persuasion at all, were shouting it loudly on TV and on the radio to tell them: this is what is going to happen if you don’t do something sensible about Brexit. We also have an opportunity. Let us get rid of most of the checks. Let us do it tomorrow. Let us have an Sanitary and Phytosanitary agreement with the European Union. The DUP reject that as well. How did they think this was going to end?
"Now we have the DUP, who for months have held a gun to their own head, telling the British Government and the European Union, 'If you don’t get me what I want, I’ll shoot.' And now they have shot and what have they got?
"This will never precipitate the result they want because it is impossible to do what the DUP wants. That is the reality. This is not about the protocol; this is about an election that will come in the next few months."
Mr. Eastwood claimed the decision to collapse the Executive was about 'shoring up the Unionist support.'
"That is what every election in Northern Ireland is about. Let’s get the people worried! Let’s get them scared! Who is going to be First Minister? Who is going to be Deputy First Minister? The Union is at risk!
"Why not actually work to make the institutions work and persuade the people out there who are interested in this big constitutional debate that they actually should vote for the Union at some point? But everything that the DUP does makes my job easier and easier.
"I do not have to do anything to persuade people to vote for constitutional change. I just have to let the DUP speak, because everything it has done over the past five or six years has led to more support for the Union," he said.
During the same debate the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson quoted the late John Hume in arguing against the Protocol.
"I am a Unionist. I believe passionately in Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. At the heart of the Belfast agreement is the principle of consensus. The former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, John Hume, told us time after time that the way forward in Northern Ireland was not the politics of one side being in charge of the other and of majority rule; it was about consensus.
"On a matter as fundamental as Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom and the harm that the protocol is doing to that relationship, there is not a consensus in Northern Ireland. There is not a single Unionist party and not a single Unionist elected representative who supports the protocol," said the Lagan Valley MP.
Mr. Donaldson said he remembered the former Foyle MP Mark Durkan speaking of the need "'to remove some of the ugly scaffolding' of the Good Friday Agreement".
The DUP leader said: "The sooner we get on with some of that, the better, but that does not involve negating the need for dual consent in Northern Ireland. That consent is not forthcoming from the people I represent.
"There is this idea that the protocol can be proceeded with by ignoring the wishes of Unionists and just telling us, 'Get on with it—you can rage against it,' but that is not what the agreement says. It says that the Government will bring forward 'measures to protect and strengthen the UK internal market' and Northern Ireland’s place within it.
"Yet since the agreement two years ago and since the Command Paper more than six months ago, the Government have done nothing to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the internal market.
"They have not honoured their commitment in the agreement, which is the basis on which my party re-entered the power-sharing institutions in Northern Ireland. How long are we expected to be in the position of my Ministers having to implement measures that, day after day, are harming Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom and our economy?"