PUP leader Billy Hutchinson gives his reaction to John Kyle’s comments on the Northern Ireland Protocol

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson says he will be encouraging his deputy leader John Kyle to stay in the party.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 4:17 pm
Updated Friday, 26th November 2021, 5:37 pm
PUP leader Billy Hutchinson is standing by his deputy leader.

He was speaking after Dr Kyle told the BBC’s The View that the NI Protocol presented unique trade economic opportunities for NI. The unionist parties have collectively been scathing of the protocol, with Dr Kyle being apparently the first unionist politician to break ranks.

Despite loyalist calls on social media for him to resign, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson stood by his deputy.

“It is very clear that John gave his view, which was personal, and he gave the party view which was ignored,” Mr Hutchinson told the News Letter. “The party is categorically opposed to the protocol. This is the view of many people and of political unionism. The leaders of the four unionist parties signed a declaration and released a video. John is a colleague and is entitled to hold a personal view. I respect him as a person and a politician.”

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Asked if Dr Kyle will be able to stay in the PUP after his remarks, Mr Hutchinson said: “Of course. It is his decision, we are not looking for him to leave. I will be encouraging John to continue with the excellent work he does with the party.”

Dr Kyle has insisted that he stands over the concerns he raised with MPs that the identity and ethos of the unionist community within the UK was sacrificed for the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He was speaking to the News Letter the day after he told the BBC’s The View that the NI Protocol presented unique economic opportunities for NI to trade, both with the UK and EU, which he said would economically strengthen NI and therefore the union.

In May Dr Kyle told the NI Affairs at Westminster committee: “The identity and ethos of the Unionist community, as equal citizens with everyone else in the United Kingdom, was sacrificed. He added: “I think that there’s possibilities for economic benefits, but I would caveat that with saying that for many unionists, being British is more important than being prosperous.”

Yesterday he insisted he stood by those comments, but in addition he was adamant that there is no alternative to the Protocol and that the ongoing UK-EU talks to resolve differences over it should resolve most difficulties it is causing.

“The command paper from the British government in July sets out very reasonable changes that I think, if they were implemented, would solve most of the problems inherent in the NI Protocol,” he said. This would allow for free movement of goods between NI and GB - which are not in transit to the EU - and would cover 90% of goods, he said.

“It would allow for reasonable and biosecurity measures that are not more onerous than what we operated with for the previous three or four decades. It would remove much of the onerous paperwork bureaucracy and customs declarations that are currently being demanded. It also proposes the ways in which legislation proposed by Brussels can be assessed for its impact on NI to ensure that it has minimal impact in terms of creating a divergence between legislation that applies to NI and that applies to the rest of the UK.”

He “absolutely” stands over the evidence he gave to the NI Affairs Committee in May.

“My concerns are no less than they were. I want to make it clear that I think the protocol needs to be fundamentally reformed.”

He insists that “the most persuasive and effective argument against a united Ireland is an economically successful, culturally rich and socially coherent Northern Ireland - and that with this Protocol we can achieve that. And if that is the case with the protocol, then who would want to risk the success of NI for a precarious union with the Republic of Ireland.”

He accepts that there is the possibility that the UK could fail to get the bulk of the demands in its command paper from the EU in ongoing talks.

However he insists there is no alternative to the Protocol and that even triggering Article 16 will not remove it.

“I think if there is a very poor outcome from the negotiations then unionism needs to discuss what it should do next,” he added.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has repeatedly highlighted that not a single elected representative in NI is supporting the protocol - a claim Dr Kyle has now seriously challenged.

DUP spokesman said: “When Sir Jeffrey became leader, no one in Brussels was open to a renegotiation. Thanks to the strategy adopted by us, the wall has been breached.

“The EU and the UK are now back at the table. Therefore, now is not the time for unionism to divide. We must keep our nerve and see this through.

“Whether the negotiations produce a proper outcome remains to be seen but we won’t have to wait much longer to find out.

“We have a plan and strategy that is succeeding and will cover both the short and long term. GB is our most important market by value and volume. The Irish Sea border must go.”

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