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The last time Downing Street foisted a deal on Northern Ireland’s unionists, the backlash was swift and bitter. Hundreds of thousands poured on to the streets to protest. A mob punched and kicked the secretary of state outside Belfast city hall. They hit him with a union jack-draped flagpole, grappled him into a headlock and chanted, “Traitor, traitor, traitor.”

It was 1985 and Margaret Thatcher had signed the Anglo-Irish agreement giving Dublin a say in Northern Ireland’s affairs. It took burly bodyguards to save her secretary of state, Tom King, from the mob’s wrath. Demonstrations, strikes and civil disobedience raged for months. “We say, ‘Never, never, never, never!’” Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist party leader, bellowed to a crowd.

Three decades later Boris Johnson has ignored DUP objections and negotiated a Brexit deal that would create a customs border down the Irish Sea. EU regulations would apply to all goods in Northern Ireland and the DUP would lose its veto on whether the new arrangements come into force.

Many unionists inside and outside the party fear for Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom. Even before the deal was unveiled on Thursday, there were cries of betrayal and warnings about tumult and violence. But widespread public disorder seems unlikely.

The last time Downing Street foisted a deal on Northern Ireland’s unionists, the backlash was swift and bitter. Hundreds of thousands poured on to the streets to protest. A mob punched and kicked the secretary of state outside Belfast city hall. They hit him with a union jack-draped flagpole, grappled him into a headlock and chanted, “Traitor, traitor, traitor.”

It was 1985 and Margaret Thatcher had signed the Anglo-Irish agreement giving Dublin a say in Northern Ireland’s affairs. It took burly bodyguards to save her secretary of state, Tom King, from the mob’s wrath. Demonstrations, strikes and civil disobedience raged for months. “We say, ‘Never, never, never, never!’” Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist party leader, bellowed to a crowd.

Three decades later Boris Johnson has ignored DUP objections and negotiated a Brexit deal that would create a customs border down the Irish Sea. EU regulations would apply to all goods in Northern Ireland and the DUP would lose its veto on whether the new arrangements come into force.

Many unionists inside and outside the party fear for Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom. Even before the deal was unveiled on Thursday, there were cries of betrayal and warnings about tumult and violence. But widespread public disorder seems unlikely. Read more

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