Markethill loyalist protest rally hears of ‘grave threat’ posed by NI Protocol

Thousands of loyalists have converged on Markethill for a major protest against the “grave threat” posed by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

By Mark Rainey
Friday, 18th February 2022, 9:31 pm
Updated Saturday, 19th February 2022, 1:23 am

More than 30 bands paraded through the Co Armagh town before the crowd was addressed by a number of speakers, including DUP MP Sammy Wilson and TUV leader Jim Allister.

Organised by the Mid/South Armagh Grassroots Unionist Collective, the rally is the latest in a number to have been held in Markethill since the controversial post-Brexit trading arrangements were agreed between the UK Government and the European Union.

Large swathes of unionists have been angered by what has become an internal UK border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland affecting the free flow of trade.

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Thousands have attended a parade and protest in Markethill, Co Armagh against the NI Protocol. Picture: PressEye

Commenting after addressing the rally, Sammy Wilson compared the actions of the EU with those of Russian president Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.

“The Irish Sea border imposes the will of nationalists on unionists. It trashes the principle of cross-community consent, undermines the Acts of Union and breaches the constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland.

“Through the Northern Ireland Protocol, the EU, in effect, is annexing Northern Ireland just as much as President Putin has already annexed part of Ukraine and is seeking to undermine that country’s independence further.”

Mr Wilson added: “Boris Johnston has rightly led the campaign to stop Putin undermining the democratic wishes of the people of Ukraine, and he has an even greater responsibility as the Prime Minister of the UK prevent the annexation of Northern Ireland by Brussels by revoking the NI Protocol.

The latest anti-Northern Ireland Protocol rally was held in Co Armagh on Friday night. Picture:: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press

“Make no doubt about it, whilst the protocol damages the economy of Northern Ireland, even more fundamentally, it divides us from the country to which we belong, it undermines democracy and imposes foreign rules in this part of the UK.

“The threat is so grave, it leaves no room for unionists to point score against each other, to undermine the morale of the unionist population by divisive tactics and words and it would be the worst disservice any unionist politician could do to make political capital out of this constitutional danger.”

Jim Allister said that “foreign sovereignty over any part of the UK is incompatible with being an integral part of that kingdom.”

Addressing the large crowd, Mr Allister said: “The basis of unionist cooperation, as set out in the Ulster Day Declaration, is, in its words, the ‘unalterable position that the Protocol must be rejected’.

A loyalist demonstration against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Markethill. Photo: Presseye

“The necessity for such rejection has not changed. It is because through the Northern Ireland Protocol the European Union obtains sovereignty over economic and trading matters in Northern Ireland, subjecting us to their laws – which we cannot change – and the rule of the European Court of Justice.”

The TUV leader added: “Thus, any ‘landing ground’ that leaves us annexed into the EU’s single market is not ‘the best of both worlds’, but keeps us firmly in the EU’s world, with Great Britain designated as a ‘third country,’ while we are subjected to European Union laws and jurisdiction. Such is a non-starter.

“Any woolly thinking that you can be part of the EU single market and subject to its customs code while at the same time not be subject to its sovereignty is a dangerous delusion.

“Thus, any acceptable way forward requires the EU to give up its ill-gotten sovereignty over Northern Ireland. There can be no compromise on this constitutional imperative. This is not a matter to fudge or equivocate over and those who do forfeit the right to expect transfers from anti-Protocol unionists.”

Although the shared platform displayed a degree of unionist unity in opposition to the post-Brexit trading arrangements, at one point during Mr Wilson’s address Mr Allister had to step in to ask people to stop jeering the DUP MP.

On a night of blizzard-like conditions, Mr Wilson compared the EU’s handling of NI in the Brexit process to Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

However, his comments were often drowned out as angry crowd members accused his party of botching the Brexit process.

Mr Allister urged the crowd to listen to the speakers, saying: “I do appeal to you to listen to the speeches. You’ll get your opportunity at the polls to express yourself, but tonight it’s important that we listen to all unionist voices. The people that are here are the people who are opposed to protocol.”

Mr Wilson thanked him and told the crowd: “We are on the same side. We did not implement the protocol, the British Government brought the protocol in and implemented it.”

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson also attended the protest rally.

He said: “It’s great to see so many unionists and loyalists turned out in opposition to the Union-subjugating Protocol. It’s very cold, but one thing is for sure and that is the temperature is going to steadily rise with every day the protocol remains.

“We are heading for a long hot summer in the absence of solutions. While the command paper last July managed to lower the temperature over the summer, no one will be fooled again by such promises in the absence of clear delivery.

“It is important we dismantle this notion of there being any scope for ‘best of both worlds’ dual market access as an acceptable landing zone. It is not; NI’s position as part of the UK must be restored and that requires purist adherence to Article 6 of the Acts of Union.”

Mr Bryson said that, in his view, there are “no ‘opportunities’ in the protocol,” and added: “Even if there were, they are entirely outweighed by the constitutional mutilation they would occasion. What so shall it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his own soul?

“It is important we have a collective unionist and loyalist front against the Protocol. That includes encouraging and empowering new voices and building a broad movement. That campaign can only be rooted in fundamental principles, the key of which is the requirement to restore the Acts of Union.

“On Wednesday at a rally in Portadown I intend to set out my view on why removing the protocol is not even enough and outline the fundamental reform of the Belfast Agreement that must take place before any unionist could credibly advocate a return to the power sharing institutions.”

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