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The will of Parliament smashes Unionist opposition to Windsor Framework

486.

The total audience at one of Jamie Bryson’s anti-Protocol rallies?

The number of Catholics Kate Hoey believes work at BBC NI?

The annual millions in EU funding that Northern Ireland now misses out on, thanks to Brexit?

Plausibly all of the above, however it’s actually the majority in the House Commons this afternoon that voted to support the Windsor Framework.

The House of Commons rammed through the deal by the whopping margin of 515-29.

The vote was technically just on the so-called ‘Stormont Break’ – the mechanism that supposedly allows the Northern Ireland Assembly to block future EU laws from applying, (which on closer inspection does no such thing).

But Downing Street made it clear that the vote was really about the entire Windsor Framework.

The margin was conclusive and a humiliation for unionists.

All the soft-soaping of the DUP, with ministers saying they would let the party take its time to arrive at a decision, was over in an instant.

Jeffrey Donaldson’s ‘committee of eight’ that he asked to pore over the detail of Rishi Sunak’s deal, hardly needs bother now.

It’s all over.

Today was brutal and decisive.

A mid-afternoon vote with the bare minimum allotted in terms of parliamentary time, with the Speaker granting MPs just three minutes to make contributions.

It was also timetabled to take place at the same time as Boris Johnson was giving evidence to the Privileges Committee into whether he deliberately misled Parliament.

The message from the government was unmistakeable: ‘We’re done with this.’

Ulster Unionism, never a popular cause in British politics, tonight has junk bond status.

The former CEO of Siemens, Juergen Maier tweeted that the ERG and DUP had caused ‘economic damage’ and that it was now ‘time to ignore them and move on.’

So, what does it all mean, politically?

Most obviously today’s vote is a catastrophic defeat for political Unionism. The worst since the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Once again, it is a Tory government that has undermined their constitutional position, turning the wheel another notch towards Irish unity.

Yet, having lumbered Britain with a hard Brexit, it’s the British liberal-left that hates the DUP, having paid it little heed before they propped-up Theresa May’s government in 2017 and killed off any hope of keeping the UK in the customs union.

No, there is no sympathy for Jeffrey Donaldson beyond the dwindling ranks of the European Research Group (ERG) of backbench Tory MPs. Just 22 of them sided with the DUP in today’s vote – around half their number.

2023 is definitely turning into a stinker for unionists – and that’s before May’s all-out local elections.

Just look at what’s happened over the past month.

The Supreme Court found the original Protocol was perfectly legal.

The government then agreed the Windsor Framework as an improvement.

King Charles was wheeled out to help sell it.

And now Parliament has voted decisively to endorse it.

A full house of the British constitution rejecting the DUP concerns.

If unionists want to be ‘more British than the British,’ our political system has just said: ‘We’re less unionist than the Unionists.’

Of course, it also means that there will be no initial movement to restore the devolved institutions.

Undeterred, Rishi Sunak should press his advantage and make it clear that unionists’ position really can get worse.

If there is no prospect of the DUP playing nice, then he should begin consulting with the other parties about altering the rules at Stormont to allow an administration to be formed with parties willing to form one.

He should underpin this approach by ramping-up Dublin’s involvement.

The DUP should no longer be able to hold the entire political system to ransom. The days of the unionist veto need to end, fully and finally.

As for today, it’s an inflection point. Unionism’s circular firing squad has let rip. Every mirror in DUP HQ has crashed to the ground.

They hedged their bets that ministers would yield over the Protocol and instead they have been sold a pup in the Windsor deal.

The trouble for them is that Parliament is sovereign in the British system – and it has now spoken.

Unionists? They are left patronised, demoralised and defeated.

Subjugated, you might say.

Kevin Meagher is author of A United Ireland: Why Unification is Inevitable and How it will Come About and What A Bloody Awful Country: Northern Ireland’s Century of Division.