In 1998 Lord Trimble and SDLP leader John Hume were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland, resulting in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement (GFA).
However the former UUP leader and First Minister, warned last week: “John Hume and I made huge sacrifices to help Northern Ireland find peace. Now it’s all at risk.”
He added: “The people of the province, nationalist and unionist, supported the Assembly because of the assurance that cross-community consent would be required when decisions on a controversial or significant issue were to be made.”
However he warned that it “grieves me now that the arrangements which I and others gave so much to achieve are in danger of collapsing, as a result of the imposition of the Northern Ireland Protocol”.
He added: “American politicians and the EU say that they support the Good Friday Agreement, yet this denial of democratic control and dilution of British sovereignty over part of the UK has had the opposite effect. If they did care about the Good Friday Agreement, they would realise that this Protocol doesn’t command support from any unionist representative in Northern Ireland. How does anyone expect the Assembly, which is based on decisions being made by consent, to function?”
However when asked for reaction to Lord Trimble’s concerns, the US Consulate in Belfast declined to give any comment. Instead it advised the News Letter to research media reports of comments made last week by US Department of State Counselor Derek Chollet to the BBC.
Mr Chollet told the BBC the key concern on the Protocol was to show a united front from the west to Russia at present because Vladimir Putin would “use any opportunity he can to show that our alliance is fraying”.
Invited to comment on the apparent blanking of Lord Trimble’s concerns, the current UUP leader Doug Beattie, firmly backed the peer’s concerns - and warned that “Clumsy and ill-informed statements... set us back instead of moving forward”.
“The Ulster Unionist Party has been strident in saying that the Protocol damages the Belfast Agreement since it was first proposed in October 2019,” Mr Beattie said.
“Unlike others, we foresaw and warned of its impact. I have been saying it; Lord Empey, the Ulster Unionist Party`s lead negotiator for the Belfast Agreement has been saying it and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Lord Trimble, is saying it.
“It`s not just unionist politicians who are saying that the Protocol damages the Belfast Agreement. Only last year, Lisa Chambers, as Chair of the Irish Seanad`s Special Select Committee on the UK withdrawal from the EU also acknowledged that the Protocol damages the Belfast Agreement. Senior members of the EU also accept this.
“The question is, at what stage will they accept that they need to move quickly to undo this damage and seek to re-establish the equilibrium set within the Belfast Agreement? Clumsy and ill-informed statements from others, including Nancy Pelosi, set us back instead of moving forward. Northern Ireland needs solutions rather than soundbites.”
DUP MP Sammy Wilson also hit out at the US Consulate’s lack of response to Lord Trimble’s concerns.
“I think that’s another good illustration of where one of the authors of the Good Friday Agreement has actually made it quite clear that the impact of the protocol has been to destroy the agreement,” he said. “I spoke to David and he is very upset about this.”
Mr Wilson said Lord Trimble had “a bit of a dig” at the DUP for its failure to support the GFA in 1998, but also outlined how he “gave up so much” to make it happen.
The MP continued: “He gave up so much because he believed what he and John Hume were doing was right and he now sees it discarded. And furthermore the view of the author of the Belfast agreement is now discarded by people, ironically, who say they want to protect the Good Friday Agreement.
“The unionist view seems to be disregarded. You would have thought David Trimble’s name would have carried weight but it seems that if you are a unionist - in the eyes of the Americans now anyway - you don’t count.
“The whole thing was that the Good Friday Agreement was meant to be an arrangement which took into consideration the concerns of unionists and nationalists. Now only the nationalist view of the agreement matters with the Americans.”
Mr Wilson accepted that the DUP did not initially support the GFA.
“Of course we opposed it but we got alterations made to it in subsequent agreements at St Andrews and so on,” he said. “The important point is that it seems any concerns about the impact of the protocol on the Good Friday Agreement [are ignored] by people who don’t even understand what it means anyway.”
The US Consulate was invited to respond to the comments from Mr Beattie and Mr Wilson.
Former Brexit Minister Lord Frost also hit out on Friday at the intervention by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who warned the UK against unilateral action which would result in a hard border on the island of Ireland.
But Mr Frost called her statement “ignorant” of the “the realities in Northern Ireland”.
“There is no plan to put in place a physical border. Nobody has ever suggested that, so I don’t know why she is suggesting that in her statement,” he said.
He said that the Northern Ireland Protocol is “undermining” the Good Friday agreement.
“People who can’t see that really shouldn’t be commenting on the situation in Northern Ireland,” he told the BBC.