Just over two years ago, when Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster said it would be a mistake to allow the local crocodiles to hope that their well-honed appetites might be satisfied because, no matter how much they were given to eat, they would want more she revealed far more than she intended.
She inadvertently showed how she regards some of her constituents, constituents whose democratic mandate she is obliged to discharge fairly. That duty stands even though she and her party work enthusiastically to nullify their vote to remain members of the European Union.
Ms Foster’s contemptuous dismissal may have won her roll-out-the-Lambeg kudos among her more trenchant supporters but it marked her down as a less than transformative, open-minded person, much less a visionary politician. In other words, yet another political chieftain who is more a part of the problem than the solution in that unfortunate, ever-at-loggerheads corner of Ireland.
That her other-side-of-the-fence peer, unfortunately, also answers that description is one of the many reasons Stormont has not functioned for more than two years — a reckless indulgence in this increasingly autocratic, unstable world. She and her now unrepresentative party cannot, however, have imagined that she would so quickly become an insatiable crocodile herself, albeit in a different cause — Brexit.
It seems fair though, if a little tongue-in-cheek, to suggest that she and her colleagues are more black caimans, the smallest crocodile dangerous to humans, than saltwater crocodiles. Saltwater crocodiles are one of the bigger dangerous crocodiles and seem a good comparison for the utterly insatiable Brextremists of the dangerously divided Tory party. This group, Jacob Rees Mogg’s European Research Group, early yesterday afternoon, announced it would vote against the deal secured by Prime Minister Theresa May in Strasbourg on Monday evening.
It is hard to imagine the ERG accepting any deal that the EU might sanction as, like so many destructive forces active in Northern Ireland, their survival depends on a kind of well-cut, Jermyn Street anarchy. That dismissal echoed the DUP’s rejection which acknowledged that Mrs May had made limited progress in her discussions with the EU, “sufficient progress has not been achieved at this time”.
It is clear, the DUP said, that the risks remain that the UK would be unable to lawfully exit the backstop were it to be activated. Responding in the House of Commons Mrs May was defiant: “This is the moment and this is the time — time for us to come together, back this motion and get the deal done because only then can we get on with what we came here to do, what we were sent here to do.
We cannot serve our country by overturning a democratic decision of the British people. We cannot serve by prolonging a debate the British people now wish to see settled. And we cannot serve by refusing to compromise, reinforcing instead of healing the painful divisions we see within our society and across our country.”
Her remarks, made during a day more of drama than finality, will have a sense of déjà vu for students of Irish history. That sorry story is littered with lost opportunities to compromise. Today, as Stormont stands idle for that same reason, maybe hardline Brexiteers might consider Seamus Mallon’s sad but accurate description of the Belfast peace deal — “Sunningdale for slow learners”.
Yesterday’s deal may have been Brexit for slow learners and it a tragedy that the Commons rejected it by 391 to 242 votes. Her majesty’s United Kingdom already has one dysfunctional parliament, it can hardly afford a second. What happens next is anyone’s guess.