LOYALIST paramilitary organisations have penned a letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson withdrawing their support for the Belfast Agreement – which has upheld peace in Northern Ireland for two decades.
The outlawed groups said that their support for the Belfast/Good Friday agreement has been temporarily withdrawn in the wake of growing concerns over the Northern Ireland Protocol governing Irish Sea trade post-Brexit.
However, the former militants emphasised that unionist opposition to the protocol should remain “peaceful and democratic”.
The 1998 agreement established a devolved power sharing arrangement at Stormont and was endorsed by loyalist paramilitaries 23 years ago, putting an end to decades of violence.
Today, UK ministers have riled unionists who worry that the post-Brexit protocol undermines Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
The DUP and other unionist parties are calling for the protocol to be scrapped, claiming it has created an economic divide across the Irish Sea that threatens to undermine the union.
The letter, sent to Mr Johnson by an umbrella body representing the paramilitaries, stated that their stance toward the Belfast Agreement would continue until the protocol was amended to guarantee “unfettered access for goods, services, and citizens throughout the United Kingdom”.
It added: “If you or the EU is not prepared to honour the entirety of the agreement then you will be responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement.”
The development came as the UK Government took unilateral action on Wednesday to extend a regulatory grace period for agri-food products coming from GB into Northern Ireland.
The EU in turn criticised the UK Government’s decision to extend the grace period – which was due to expire at the end of the month – until October, arguing that it risked breaching the terms of the protocol.
Goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland have come under increased scrutiny, as new processes and checks have come into force since the Brexit transition period ended on December 31.
That bureaucratic morass is set to intensify significantly when the grace period ends, as supermarkets and other retailers will need to attain EU export health certificates for agri-food goods imported from GB.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin also expressed his concern over the UK government’s controversial decision – and said they were “undermining trust” over the special trade status afforded to Northern Ireland by the EU under the terms of the Brexit agreement.
He suggested that a joint EU-UK joint committee be set up to deal with the problems as they arise.
“We have worked continuously in support of efforts to find sensible means of implementing the Protocol that respond to challenges identified,” the Taoiseach said, as reported by the Irish Independent.
“We will continue to do so, but unilateral action undermines the trust necessary to reach agreement. I call on the British government to engage urgently with the European Commission, and to work towards agreed outcomes,” Mr Martin added.