United front from unionism for rescheduled anti-protocol rally

There will be a display of unionist unity in Co Down on Friday night as a rescheduled anti-NI Protocol rally takes place in Crossgar Orange hall.

By Mark Rainey
Tuesday, 8th March 2022, 5:34 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th March 2022, 2:55 pm

Organised by the Lecale District lodge No2, the rally is one of a number taking place during March and April – calling on the government to scrap the post-Brexit trading arrangements that are disrupting a significant amount of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Crossgar protest was originally due to take place on February 25 but was postponed following the sudden death of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford.

It takes place as government officials continue to hold talks with the EU in the hope of reworking the agreement in a way that will alleviate the current difficulties.

Thousands attend a parade and protest in the Co Armagh village of Markethill, against the NI Protocol on 18 February. Picture: PressEye

Many unionists are also growing increasingly concerned that Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom is being undermined by the trade border in the Irish Sea.

The list of platform speakers for Friday includes DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, TUV leader Jim Allister, South Down UUP assembly election candidate Jill Macauley, Baroness Kate Hoey and former Tory MEP Ben Habib.

While Friday’s rally has been organised by members of the Orange Order, other events have been the work of unionists acting independently right across Northern Ireland.

Following on from a thousands-strong outdoor rally in Markethill last month, with another protest at Carleton Street Orange Hall in Portdown just days later, further rallies are due to take place in Ballymoney on March 25, Lurgan on April 8, Castlederg on April 21 and Newbuildings on April 23.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, who has addressed many of the protests, said it is “positive to see unionism and loyalism continuing to stand together in unalterable opposition” to the protocol”.

He described the protocol as being “designed to force constitutional change onto Northern Ireland by undermining the very fundamentals of our integral place in the Union.”

He said: “All those on the platforms – from pro Union backgrounds from across the UK – it seems to me stand squarely behind that unalterable opposition, and indeed the joint unionist declaration issued by the four man unionist parties on Ulster Day 2021.”

However, he expressed concern at what he called the Ulster Unionists’ “backsliding on their opposition to the protocol,” and added: “I think they would need to be showing their face at these united unionist rallies rather than being in the thrall of liberal soft unionist academics seeking to turn them into garden centre unionists.”

Mr Bryson added: “I look forward to speaking in Ballymoney, Lurgan, Castlederg and Newbuildings alongside fellow unionists to send a clear message that the protocol is incompatible with peace and stability and as such there can never again be power sharing in Northern Ireland until the Acts of Union are restored”

In response to Mr Bryson’s ‘backsliding’ comments, an Ulster Unionist spokesman said: “Unlike others, the Ulster Unionist Party has been consistent in its opposition to the protocol from its very inception.

“When Boris Johnson first published his proposals on October 2, 2019 for a regulatory sea border and customs posts in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party was forthright and crystal clear in its opposition.

“While others described it as a ‘serious and sensible’ way forward, said it offered the ‘best of both worlds’ or called for its ‘rigorous implementation’ we were clear about the damage it would do constitutionally, democratically and economically.”

The UUP spokesman added: “The Ulster Unionist Party has consistently maintained that position and we will continue to engage at all levels of government across Northern Ireland, in Westminster and Brussels.

“As part of our engagement, our representatives have attended and spoken at meetings and rallies in opposition to the protocol. Others can seek headlines if they wish, we want to seek results.

“Some are also using the cover of opposition to the protocol as an attempt to destroy the Belfast Agreement and the devolved institutions, which would do irreparable damage to the Union. Instead we will provide positive, confident leadership to the pro-Union community and we will let the voters decide.”

Meanwhile, Liz Truss has sidestepped demands to give Brussels an “absolute deadline” to resolve concerns over the NI Protocol.

The Foreign Secretary told MPs on Tuesday the agreement “simply isn’t working” and has resulted in communities in NI being “treated unfairly”.

But while Ms Truss pressed for “movement from the EU”, she stopped short of meeting the deadline request made by DUP MP Ian Paisley.

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing land border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, although difficulties have been reported since it came into force.

After MPs had raised several questions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Paisley told Foreign Office questions in the Commons: “I think the importance of the international events that the House is dealing with this morning is a clear demonstration that the department is not the right place for the protocol to be ultimately dealt with.

“But on that vein can I ask the Secretary of State that she recognises the huge damage being done with the protocol, it’s costing £100,000 per hour to businesses in NI, it’s damaged the sovereignty of Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

“Will the Secretary of State now set a deadline, an absolute deadline to deal with this matter once and for all?”

Ms Truss replied: “I can assure (Mr Paisley) that I am dealing with this matter, I met various European countries last week to discuss reforming the Northern Ireland Protocol, which simply isn’t working.

“What we have is communities in Northern Ireland being treated unfairly, we have an issue of getting goods from GB into Northern Ireland, we put forward a concrete proposal that will also protect the EU single market and we need to see movement from the EU.”

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