The powers that be have been steering the DUP towards a return to Stormont.
The presentation of the recent US business summit seemed to add to the pressure. The US ambassador to the UK effectively lectured NI (and by implication the DUP) about ‘stable government’.
A discussion on BBC One The View last week included three business figures who all said how important it was that the assembly returned (despite its woeful governing record of shying away from all difficult decisions). A previous edition of The View discussed what a health minister would do when Stormont returned.
Not even implicit pressure was applied to Sinn Fein when they were allowed to bring down Stormont in 2017, and keep it down for three years until they got their non negotiable sectarian demand of an Irish language act.
The DUP, on the other hand, has been scolded explicitly or implicitly throughout for its stand on the Irish Sea border. Yet the party has been vindicated in its stand on a matter of major constitutional importance. In fact, the chief criticism that can be made of the DUP is its muddled initial approach to the Irish Sea border and indeed its varying approach to its own seven tests, with key party figures for a while emphasising the need to end application of EU law, which is not in the tests, and at other times (including latterly) dropping such a demand.
The party is clearly re-orientating for a Stormont return. Sir Jeffrey in his recent DUP conference speech said they would not hesitate to say no to the wrong deal, but that devolution was “essential” for our place in the Union. If the latter is so, how can you feasibly stay out?
Staying out focused minds on the appalling protocol. No-one is now seriously trying to spin the Windsor Framework. Unionist options are poor but if a government paper pledge leads to a return, few unionists will believe there has been a real victory.