Unless EU moves on two key points violence is still possible: loyalist group spokesman David Campbell

A prominent opponent of the Northern Ireland Protocol has said that progress now hinges on two key issues which, if left unresolved, could provoke “instability and potential violence”.

Sunday, 21st November 2021, 9:33 pm
BBC handout photo of European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr show

David Campbell, chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council, made the comments today in the wake of a statement from EU negotiator Maros Sefcovic on Friday.

In that Friday statement, the top Brussels official had said that he detected a “change in tone” from the UK side of the negotiations, and said there has been “useful engagement at technical level”.

In response to this statement, Mr Campbell said that despite the “upbeat” rhetoric, what really matters is whether the EU is prepared to compromise on two core things – firstly, that any requirement for “permanent border infrastructure” between Northern Ireland and GB is removed;

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And secondly, that the European Court of Justice must “no longer regulate trade disputes in Northern Ireland”.

If Mr Sefcovic backs such proposals, “there may be the prospect of real progress”.

But he added: “If the answer is negative however, then the European Commission is still requiring the Belfast Agreement to be breached and threatening a return to instability and potential violence in Northern Ireland.

“Notwithstanding any technical issue regarding trade, these are the two fundamental issues that must be removed to ensure the continuation of the relative harmony and stability that the Agreement has provided since 1998.”

The loyalist council currently chaired by Mr Campbell, a former leading UUP figure, effectively brings together different loyalist paramilitary groups and seeks to promote their views on the political stage.

Mr Sefcovic appeared as a guest on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show today.

He told the host that “if there is a genuine problem” with the protocol News Letter’s emphasis] then “we can find the solutions”.

The UK government admitted months ago that the headaches caused by the Irish Sea border which the Protocol has brought into being are so severe that it can activate an emergency clause in the Protocol called Article 16.

This says: “If the application of this Protocol leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures.”

Basically what this means is that the UK has the right to suspend the Protocol altogether – but so far the Tory government has been extremely reluctant to do so.

Mr Sefcovic said on the Marr show that the EU had already proposed “gestures and solutions” from their side but added: “We cannot undo the Brexit, especially the type as the UK has proposed it, negotiated it, and signed the agreement up on it with us.”

On the subject of invoking Article 16, Mr Sefcovic said: “We’re doing everything possible to avoid it because, of course, it will have serious consequences, first and foremost for the people in the Northern Ireland but also for the EU / UK relations.”

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