Representatives linked to loyalist paramilitary groups have told the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) they strongly oppose to the current Brexit deal.
David Campbell – ex-UUP negotiator and current chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council – said they met the permanent secretary of the department last Thursday to voice the objections.
The council brings together people with connections to the UDA, UVF and the Red Hand Commando.
It emerged to prominence in 2016, when it unfurled a commemorative Somme flag designed to replace many paramilitary flags during the year of the battle’s anniversary.
Mr Campbell said: “The members, some of whom voted to remain, were extremely hostile about the deal, and were urging the officials to convey to the prime minister the real need to get a definitive power for the UK to end the backstop unilaterally, if need be.
“The main concern really is – what my concern is – anything that leaves Northern Ireland being treated differently to the rest of the UK is dangerous for unionism.
“If Theresa May could deliver that issue on the backstop, I think that would be 99% of the way to her being able to sell this deal.”
As to whether there was any sense of threat from the loyalists, Mr Campbell said: “Oh, no, no, not at all. Quite the opposite.
“The organisations reinforced their commitment to the peace process. This is very much political opposition.
“They did make that quite clear. They very much appeal to the unionist leadership collectively to provide guidance to the wider community.”
As to what exactly the people at the meeting’s standing was with the loyalist paramilitary groups, Mr Campbell said: “To be clear, the representatives were members of the council.
“You know, it’s illegal to be a member of these organisations.”
Rather, he said they would have “affiliations to those organisations that make up the council”.
Like the DUP, Mr Campbell also hit out at the UFU and the many business lobby groups which in the last week or so have come out in favour of the prime minister’s deal, saying: “When it comes to very significant constitutional issues, it’s not for the union [UFU] to comment on those, and I’d have to say it’s not for business organisations either to comment on behalf of their wider membership.”
According to the book Lost Lives, which calculated Troubles deaths from 1966 to 2006, the UVF and Red Hand Commando combined killed 569 people, and UDA killed 431.