UUP leader Doug Beattie and TUV leader Jim Allister clash over anti-protocol rallies

UUP leader Doug Beattie speaking to the mediaUUP leader Doug Beattie speaking to the media
UUP leader Doug Beattie speaking to the media
The leader of the UUP has said loyalist rallies against the Northern Ireland Protocol are “being used to raise the temperature in Northern Ireland” amid a “resurgence in UVF activity”.

Upper Bann MLA Doug Bettie’s comments were deplored by the TUV leader Jim Allister, who described them as a “slight” against “thousands of concerned unionists who have attended these peaceful protests.”

A series of protest marches and rallies have been held in recent months to oppose the post-Brexit trading arrangements known as the Northern Ireland Protocol, with the customs divide between Northern Ireland and Great Britain central to unionist opposition.

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Mr Beattie, in a statement, said: “There are many issues that face the people of Northern Ireland and the most pressing and immediate now is the cost-of-living crisis including fuel poverty. It is important that politicians focus on this issue which the Ulster Unionist Party has been highlighting since last year.

Jim AllisterJim Allister
Jim Allister

The Northern Ireland Protocol remains a political issue that cannot be ignored and we have repeatedly stated that it needs to be replaced with a solution that works for everyone. It is leading to real societal harm. This includes terrorists back on our streets doing what they do best, terrorising an already beleaguered society. There are also media reports quoting UVF sources that they intend to escalate their terrorist activities in the coming weeks.”

He continued: “It is now clear that anti-protocol rallies are being used to raise the temperature in Northern Ireland and adding to tensions that now see a resurgence in UVF activity. The Ulster Unionist Party will not be part of raising tensions or the temperature by bringing people onto the streets with an intent to harness anger.

“As a party we will continue to engage in all community-led meetings where we will answer our critics. As the party leader I will make myself available, where possible, to explain my rationale for dealing with the protocol. But I will not add to the raising of tensions that others seem intent on doing.”

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Mr Beattie said his party would continue to oppose the Protocol, saying: “The Ulster Unionist Party will continue to urge the UK and EU to make rapid progress in dealing with the Protocol and we stand ready to make a positive contribution in finding solutions. This includes ending checks on goods that move between Great Britain and Northern Ireland if they are remaining in Northern Ireland. It also includes dealing with the VAT disparity within the United Kingdom.

“There has been lots of talk about Article 16, which in itself, is an article of the protocol and triggers targeted negotiations on specific issues. We believe that triggering Article 16 would be a valid use on any aspect of the protocol that is contributing to the cost-of-living crisis.”

He added: “The protocol is a political problem and it will be dealt with through political solutions. What we cannot allow is for a small group of individuals with the loudest voices to lead politicians by the nose in doing their bidding. The Ulster Unionist Party is confident that through political engagement, including the use of all articles within the protocol, we can deal with the issues that face Northern Ireland.”

TUV leader Jim Allister, responding, said: “I refute and deplore the UUP leader’s slur that peaceful and necessary protests against the Union-dismantling Protocol are raising tensions.

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“Every protest I have attended has been utterly peaceful. Thus to adopt the tone and approach of opposing such protests is not just to echo the rhetoric of the pro-Protocol brigade but is to slight the thousands of concerned unionists who have attended these peaceful protests.”

He added: “If Doug Beattie put real effort into opposing the iniquitous Protocol, then he would be serving unionism better. Facing up to the constitutional peril of GB being decreed and treated as a foreign country by the Protocol, with goods originating there being subject to foreign customs checks, would be a suitable starting point for a UUP that has been lack lustre in its ‘opposition’ to the Protocol.”