UUP peer Sir Reg Empey slams anti-Protocol rally speakers

Some of those denouncing the Ulster Unionists for withdrawing from the anti-Protocol rallies were the ones responsible for bringing about the post-Brexit trade rules which all unionists agree is de-coupling Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, Sir Reg Empey has claimed.

By Henry McDonald
Saturday, 16th April 2022, 7:00 am

The UUP peer said that while the DUP join anti-Protocol platforms they refuse to admit they enabled it by backing a hard Brexit arrangement with Brussels that put a border down the Irish Sea.

Sir Reg condemned the noose pushed through UUP leader Doug Beattie’s poster and the accusations that the highly-decorated soldier was a “traitor” and a “Lundy”.

But Sir Reg said recent Protocol protests demonstrated a “total lack of self-awareness” among some of those speaking from platforms.

Sir Reg Empey.

“Nowhere has any acknowledgement been made that Brexit has brought about the Protocol. Self-evidently, if there had not been this particular form of Brexit, there would be no need for any border in the Irish Sea. Nearly all the speakers were advocates of Brexit. Did they do any homework beforehand to find out what the Government was going to do about the fact that Northern Ireland has the only land border between the UK and the EU?” he said.

Referring to DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Sir Reg said: “As the titular leader of the campaign against the border in the Irish Sea, most attendees at the rallies would assume that he and his colleagues were always against any proposal for a border in the Irish Sea. Sadly, not so.

“As I have pointed out for the last two years, almost aways meeting a virtual wall of silence, every DUP MP, every DUP MLA, and every DUP councillor endorsed Boris Johnson’s proposal to Brussels on 2nd October 2019 for a border in the Irish Sea. The proposal went from Brussels to London that day, the DUP, via its leader at the time, Arlene Foster, issued a statement saying that the Prime Minister’s proposals were ‘a serious way forward’.

“Is it not odd that, in leading a campaign against a border in the Irish Sea, the DUP totally ignores its involvement in and endorsement of Boris Johnson’s proposal? Is it not the case that at that time they were in partnership with the Prime Minister and propping up his government in Parliament and, as they told us, had unprecedented influence over his government?”

Sir Reg claimed that the DUP had “blocked out of their minds what they did in 2019 and pretend they had nothing to do with the current mess”. He urged those attending the next anti-Protocol to ask the DUP about this.

He continued: “Unionists are now going to have to start all over again and promote a new negotiation between the UK and the EU to amend the treaty that is now part of national and international law so that we can ensure that the current arrangement is removed. Ulster Unionists are hard at work doing this now. We have always been against the Protocol (border in the Irish Sea) unlike those who flirted with it in the very early days and were used and totally outmanoeuvred by a ruthless Boris Johnson.”

Two prominent GB-based anti-Protocol campaigners - Baroness Kate Hoey and former MEP Ben Habib - were also singled out for criticism by Sir Reg.

He quoted an article from Baroness Hoey in May 2016 in which she wrote in the Daily Telegraph that “Brexit won’t hurt Northern Ireland at all - instead it will brighten its future”, while in an article by Mr Habib in 2020 he called on NI to “embrace” the Protocol.