It seems like no time ago that the DUP’s Sammy Wilson was loudly advising the British that “the blackmailing burghers from Brussels” and the “cheap political opportunists” from Dublin must be met with a “tough” response during the Brexit negotiations. “If the gloves are off it is time we went into the fray with a no surrender attitude,” he declared.
Ian Paisley jnr likewise told the then Brexit minister that what was needed was to shout “No surrender” at the EU. “Stand up to them, man,” he instructed. Thus would the steadfast men of Ulster see off the foreign enemy, and the traitors, and restore the empire to its former glory.
That was back in spring, when the party was buoyant. The prime minister had bought its 10 parliamentary votes and, in defiance of her responsibilities to the Belfast Agreement, was acting as if the DUP was the one-party government of Northern Ireland. On demand she would murmur sweet words about her dedication to “our precious, precious union”. Just like the old days, when Ulster was the “Imperial Province”.
When Edward Carson armed a militia to resist Home Rule in 1912, the leader of the British Conservative Party, Bonar Law, promised his support. He told the Ulster Volunteer Force: “Once again you hold the pass, the pass for the empire. You are a besieged city. The timid have left you; your Lundys have betrayed you; but you have closed your gates.” He was referring, of course, to the siege of Derry in 1689, when the Protestant apprentice boys shut the gates of the walled city against the Catholic forces of King James. Lundy was the pragmatic governor who, having failed to convince them they should negotiate and compromise, scarpered.
I grew up hearing indignant voices in my community protesting that unionist leaders, faced with the civil rights movement and then the IRA, were poised to “sell us down the river”.
During a political crisis in the 1990s, I remember asking the late David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, if he would respond to some…