David Trimble tells Joe Biden that EU ‘intransigence’ on NI Protocol threatens Good Friday Agreement

The original unionist champion of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, David Trimble, has rejected claims by US President Joe Biden that the NI Protocol protects the 1998 peace deal.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 5:43 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th June 2021, 10:06 pm

Lord Trimble was speaking as Mr Biden arrived in the UK for the G7 summit, with the NI Protocol threatening to overshadow his dealings with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

After EU-UK talks on Wednesday, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said EU patience was wearing “very, very thin”, and threatened a trade war. But UK Brexit minister Lord Frost accused the EU of an “extremely purist approach” over its attitude towards the implementation of the protocol.

Also on Wednesday, Mr Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan weighed in behind the EU said, saying: “President Biden believes and has said that the Northern Ireland Protocol ... is critical to ensuring that the spirit, promise and future of the Good Friday Agreement is protected.”

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UUP leader David Trimble, right, and SDLP leader John Hume won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in securing the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Photo by Brian Thompson/PA. SEE PA

But Thursday morning saw the political leader who secured unionist support for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement flatly reject Mr Biden’s analysis of NI peace and politics.

Lord Trimble, who won the Nobel Peace Prize with SDLP leader John Hume in 1998, said: “It is wrong to assert that imposition of the Northern Ireland protocol protects the Good Friday agreement (GFA) and President Biden must resist attempts by EU countries to make him believe that it does. As the GFA’s co-negotiator, with John Hume, I understand better than anyone the central principles which enabled it to be sold to a sceptical and reluctant unionist population. I can tell the president, the protocol does not defend the GFA.”

Writing in The Times newspaper this morning, he said that negotiating the deal was difficult and dangerous to both himself and his family.

“I persevered because I believed it was necessary to bring peace. I supported the GFA because there were guarantees to the unionist population that the Union was safe as long as the majority wanted to stay in the UK and that any change in the status of Northern Ireland would take place only with the consent of its people. Furthermore that any contentious issues in government had to acquire cross-community consent in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“The problem is that the protocol subverts the GFA by undermining these guarantees, and it is doing real harm to the economy. Worse, there is now significant trade diversion from Britain to the Irish Republic.”

The “EU mantra” that it is protecting the GFA is “stirring up unionist anger” which can be seen in “rising tensions on the streets” of NI.

“If the EU cared at all about the careful balance built in to the GFA, then it would show flexibility in seeking a joint solution. Instead, it seems bent on a process that treats Northern Ireland as a political football.”

Lord Trimble said he had been seeking a viable alternative to the Protocol, having met Michel Barnier to discuss how mutual enforcement of trade rules by the UK and the EU could work.

The former legal academic said the plan, if the EU supported it, would ensure the UK single market and the EU single market were protected and that 90 per cent of businesses which don’t sell outside NI would have no disruptive and costly customs checks.

“After all, there are now more checks than on all the trade that comes through the EU’s entire eastern frontier, a known smuggling route, or even Rotterdam, the EU’s main entrance for goods from the rest of the world.”

He said he was honoured to lead Northern Ireland out of one of the darkest periods of its history. “Personal and political sacrifices were worth it to win support for peace. However, now I fear for stability and peace if the protocol is imposed as the EU seeks. I appeal to those who are clamouring for its imposition either out of ignorance, vengeance for Brexit or economic advantage to understand the dangerous consequences of their demands.”

In May a string of unionists who negotiated the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement sent a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, taoiseach Micheál Martin, US President Joe Biden and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic, saying the protocol breaches many of the guarantees that were in Good Friday Agreement and works against the wishes of unionists. The letter was signed by Lord Trimble, Lord Kilclooney, Lord Maginnis, Lord Empey, Mr Dermot Nesbitt, Cllr Billy Hutchinson, Mr David Campbell and Mr Gary McMichael.

DUP leader Edwin Poots said today that Mr Biden’s claims that the NI Protocol will protect the Belfast Agreement are “not well informed”.

“We’ve seen riots on the streets in Northern Ireland which we hadn’t seen for many years and I think the president would do well to reflect on what the reality is,” he said yesterday.

“The east/west relationship has been harmed, barriers have been put east/west, that is unconstitutional and the issue that regulation is being made on behalf of Northern Ireland in Brussels without representation is something that is against democracy.”

The US always promoted democracy around the world, he said, so he hopes it will “recognise and respect” the democratic rights of people in NI to have some say over the people who make its laws.

UUP leader Doug Beattie also said that Mr Biden’s comments were “ill-informed” but added that this was “no surprise” given that none of his staff engaged with political unionism or sought to understand their “genuine concerns”.

He added: “They haven’t reached out, they haven’t sat down to ry and understand the democratic deficit created by the protocol and they fail to appreciate the damage it is doing to the Belfast Agreement.

“Unfortunately Micheal Martin’s comments further reinforce those misinformed views.”

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