Dr Dan Boucher sets out the reasons why, after a long period of service for the Conservative Party, he is joining the DUP in order to aid efforts to preserve the union of the United Kingdom.

It is with a very heavy heart and more sadness than I can say, that I resigned from the Conservative party on Saturday the 11th of September. I have done so as passionate a Conservative and Unionist as I ever have been and not wanting to leave. If you had told me four months ago, as someone who has given the party more than eight months full-time campaigning over a number of elections, and who was going through the candidate relist process, that I would be taking this step, I would have been in deep shock.

That all rather begs the question, what has happened in the last four months?

In the United Kingdom we are blessed with something precious. Ours is not a monochrome, unitary, one size fits all, polity, resting on one dominant ethnicity. Indeed, lifted out of the level of blood and ethnicity, our politics is defined by relationship, the relationship between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the constitutional principles that inform that relationship. At the end of the day, if we go behind the label, "unionism" what it presents us with is the relationship between the four component parts that make up our union, the relationship that gives us the opportunity to pioneer a distinct form of politics in which we are more than the sum of our parts. This is something I have been especially aware of as an Englishman, proud to have lived most of his adult life in Wales and to have worked in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Of course, there have been moments of failure. In relatively recent times two examples stand out. In the first instance, the tragic flooding in the 1960s of the Treweryn valley and destruction of the village of Capel Celyn against the wishes of Wales and its Members of Parliament, in order to provide Liverpool with a water reservoir. In the second instance, the imposition of the poll tax experiment on Scotland a year earlier than England, despite the opposition of most people in Scotland and most Scottish Members of Parliament. Nationalists, of course, seek to define their politics around these moments but it is my contention that, while not minimising them, there is so much more to celebrate in the history of our union relationship than there is to lament. Moreover, and this is absolutely crucial going forward, we have the opportunity to learn from past mistakes. While the union, in classic Conservative philosophical terms, is the result of evolutionary change rather than a 'grand plan', we know that it is both possible and desirable to develop principles in the light of past experience that can help us to be more purposive in trying to ensure that the future is better than the past.

It is in the context of this unionist commitment that, with the conclusion of the Welsh Parliamentary elections, I found time to study the Northern Ireland Protocol and have since been deeply disturbed by the impact of this EU imposition on the fabric of our union.

In the first instance, when we were members of the EU, they respected the territorial integrity of the UK. Now we have left, they are insisting that Northern Ireland becomes part of a different single market for goods from the UK such that Article 6 of the Act of Union has been, in the words of the courts, 'impliedly repealed.' In this context if people from other parts of the union want to sell goods to people in Northern Ireland the experience is like engaging with a foreign jurisdiction. This suggests that, for some purposes at least, the UK single market for goods no longer exists, and we are instead left with a GB single market for goods, something no one has voted for.

In the second instance, this arrangement also undermines the union because rather than putting UK citizens in Northern Ireland in more control of their governance, along with citizens from the rest of the UK, it actually extinguishes this control entirely as far as single market legislation is concerned, driving a wedge between us. As part of the EU, UK citizens in Northern Ireland could shape single market decisions through their elected representatives within EU governance structures alongside other parts of our United Kingdom. Now laws governing as much as 60 per cent of economic activity in Northern Ireland are to be made by people from another jurisdiction in which neither Northern Ireland, nor the wider UK has any elected representation. Indeed, there is a sense in which, as one commentator has observed, the Protocol effectively delivers the annexation of Northern Ireland by the Republic of Ireland and the European Union for some economic purposes.

In this context I have had to ask myself, as a unionist originally from England, how I would feel if England – uniquely within the union – was effectively placed in a different single market from the rest of the UK, such that if companies in the rest of the union wanted to sell goods to me it would be like trading with a foreign jurisdiction? How would I feel, if any of the economic legislation pertaining to England – let alone 60% of it – was made at a level into which England had no representation and was voiceless? How would I feel if this arrangement – fundamentally changing the constitutional settlement defining my life – was simply imposed on me and I was told that not only would I not be consulted about this seismic change in the rules of the game informing my citizenship through a referendum prior to the change, but that the only form of consultation would come four years after its introduction and be limited to my elected representatives? It seems to me that anyone who is English, Welsh or Scottish would find this experience intolerable, as one suspects would any citizen of the EU, including Messrs Barnier and Sefcovic.

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Of course, the European Union argues that the Protocol is vital for the purpose of honouring the Good Friday Agreement and the maintenance of peace in Northern Ireland. This assertion, however, simply does not add-up. The primary significance of the Good Friday Agreement is not that it negates but that it actually affirms the border in the sense that it involved the Republic giving up its territorial claim to Northern Ireland, not reasserting it. Moreover, it contains no prohibition on a customs border. This, of course, does not prevent a decision being made today to avoid having such a border. Any attempt to seek to secure this objective, however, should be pursued in line with the Good Friday Agreement which insists on affording parity of esteem to both communities.

In a context where there is one way of protecting the integrity of the EU single market and the UK single market without a hard border that upholds the parity of esteem principle, treating each community even-handedly (through Mutual Enforcement) and another way of achieving this objective which transgresses the parity of esteem principle by giving one community a great deal of what they want while taking from the other community a great deal of what they hold dear (the Protocol), there is a clear imperative to select the former option over the latter if one's concern is peace and respecting the Good Friday Agreement.

At this point, however, some will no doubt say. But hang on Dan, Northern Ireland is different. A significant portion of the population want a united Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement makes provision for a united Ireland if this is voted for through a referendum in Northern Ireland and a referendum in the Republic. That, however, is precisely the point. There has been no such vote.

In this context we cannot allow the EU to impose on us an arrangement that takes what is constitutionally a very significant step towards a united Ireland, when the people of Northern Ireland have not voted for such a step to be taken. If permitted such a change would not just threaten the extent of the union but in some ways more importantly the quality of the union because it obliges the union centre to express a lower level of commitment to Northern Ireland than it expresses to the other parts of the union when this has not been sought. In the context of unionism where our joining together means that the existential fortunes of the four national traditions are bound up with each other, it is not hard to see how anything other than manifesting an identical commitment to all components of the union (subject to the understanding that no constituent part of the union could be forced to remain in the face of a clear referendum result to the contrary) could be profoundly destabilising and injurious to the long term health of the union as a whole.

How should UK citizens living in England, Scotland and Wales respond to this situation?

After much reflection I believe that my responsibility as someone who cherishes his UK citizenship is to physically relocate to Northern Ireland in order to stand by, and identify with, UK citizens there. In committing to this step my purpose is to provide a living articulation of the ties that bind the union together in order to make the point that those ties are alive and well and strong enough not only for people in other parts of the union to have noticed what is happening in Northern Ireland, but also to have moved them to cross over to join the people of Northern Ireland during their hour of need to highlight that, wherever we live in the union, Northern Ireland's problems (like the challenges facing the other constituent parts of the union) are in an important sense all of our problems.

Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that the only way in which this articulation of identification can work politically, in the context of the current pressures, and where the elected representatives of the union from Northern Ireland in our UK Parliament are from the DUP, is by my joining the DUP. I believe that this relocation provides the most vivid, authentic and sincere way in which I can personally articulate the all for one, one for all ethic upon which our union depends. This might seem somewhat radical, but in a context where the Protocol has been damaging the fabric of the union since 1 January, nothing less will serve.
Sadly, the rules do not permit me to be a member of both the Conservative Party and the DUP and so I find myself in the odd position where my identity as a Conservative and Unionist – which in the current context moves me to join with those elected to represent Northern Ireland in our UK Parliament – also means I have had to resign from the Conservative Party. I understand that this must be so, at least for now. In taking this step, though, I am clear that I do so because of my Conservative and Unionist commitment and not in spite of it.

Indeed, I very much hope that as they pursue the important objectives set out in their July Command paper 'The Northern Ireland Protocol ? The way forward', the impact of the union ties on my life will provide the Prime Minister and Lord Frost with a living demonstration for the EU to consider that will help them understand that what they are proposing is politically unsustainable in our unionist polity. I also hope that other people who value their UK citizenship from England, Wales and Scotland will similarly find ways to stand with those who value their UK citizenship in Northern Ireland at this time. I look forward to blogging extensively on the union from Wales, and then, from when we move, Northern Ireland and already have a book on the Protocol, Conservative thought and the union underway.

While no one who values the United Kingdom would ever seek out the Protocol, it is my very sincere hope that rather than weakening the union, the challenges that it poses will actually serve to provoke a renewed understanding and celebration of the union that will give our United Kingdom a fresh sense of vision and purpose going forward. It has never been more needed.

 

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