Loyalist Communities Council chair: ‘Tories need to know our patience with Protocol has worn thin’

The recent united declaration from the leaders of our unionist parties, and this week’s joint presentation by the three leaders at the Conservative Party conference, are morale boosters for all unionists in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 11:42 am
A sign claiming the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement has been broken by the Northern Ireland protocol in Britain's Brexit deal has been erected beside a mural of masked members of the loyalist paramilitary group, the Red Hand Commandos in the Rathcoole estate, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim. The legend on the mural reads 'Don't play with peace.' PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

The recent united declaration from the leaders of our unionist parties, and this week’s joint presentation by the three leaders at the Conservative Party conference, are morale boosters for all unionists in Northern Ireland.

The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) supports these moves and has been calling for such unity for some time. Equally, Belfast councillor Billy Hutchinson should be commended for repeatedly seeking a coming-together of all strands of unionist opinion in the face of such significant challenges.

The unity that has been displayed must extend beyond rhetoric, however.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The firm stance of boycotting north-south meetings and structures by the DUP must be shared by the UUP. After all, it was the UUP who 20 years ago initiated this as a form of legitimate protest when others were failing to implement all aspects of the Belfast Agreement.

We are now witnessing the most severe breach of that agreement by the NI Protocol, largely due to the dishonest mis-representation of the agreement and the peace process by the Irish government. Relations with that government cannot return to normal until they have repaired the damage they have caused. The UUP needs to reinforce that.

Similarly, whilst each party must rightly retain the objective of maximising their electoral representation, there must be actual co-operation on the ground to improve unionist turn-out at the next election. In practice, this – at the very least – means agreement to transfer votes to all unionist candidates. But in constituencies where there is the opportunity to either gain or lose a unionist seat then it should extend to agreed candidate selection and voter management. There is no excuse for any unionist leader to refuse these tactics, particularly now that former centre-ground parties like Alliance and the Green Party have moved decisively on to the nationalist side.

It is important also that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party understand that patience is now wearing thin over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Statements from the Prime Minister and Lord Frost have been encouraging.

But the absence of actual change is worrying – particularly as every week brings clear indications in our shops and supermarkets of the displacement of trade from traditional suppliers in Great Britain to new suppliers in the Republic of Ireland.

This is an unacceptable state of affairs and every unionist can play their part in rejecting such displacement and boycotting these alternative products. The LCC warned some months ago that this trade displacement was the equivalent of a trade war being initiated by the Republic of Ireland. This is now becoming a visible reality.

We must also understand that the triggering of Article 16 of the Protocol, whilst clearly now justified and may in itself be seen as a victory of sorts, is not an answer. It merely suspends part of the operation of the Protocol to facilitate further negotiation.

For the avoidance of any doubt, what is required is a new protocol or agreement that completely removes the Irish Sea border and permits free and unfettered movement of goods and services throughout the UK, and the return to the animal and plant health regime that worked perfectly adequately prior to the imposition of the Protocol.

If, as the Taoiseach appears to suggest, his government and the EU are now in ‘solutions’ mode, then let him advocate this equitable solution!

l Mr Campbell is the chairman of the LCC