By Muhammad Mussa
LONDON (AA) - Northern Ireland’s Unionist parties formed an alliance against the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol of the wider EU Withdrawal Agreement, signing a statement that warns of the damage the settlement will do to the region.
Political leaders of the four rival parties, including the ruling Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) as well as the Ulster Unionists, joined hands in demanding an end to the settlement that they see as a major barrier to their connection to the rest of the UK as well as an obstacle to peace in the region.
“We, the undersigned Unionist Political Leaders, affirm our opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, its mechanisms and structures and reaffirm our unalterable position that the Protocol must be rejected and replaced by arrangements which fully respect Northern Ireland’s position as a constituent and integral part of the United Kingdom,” said the statement.
“The huge disruption of trade in the supply of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland has caused unnecessary supply chain disruption and unacceptable and unsustainable levels of bureaucracy and barriers to trade within our own nation. The resulting diversion and reorientation of trade is destructive of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom and will result in an economic realignment which is unacceptable,” it added.
The formation of the alliance and the publishing of a joint declaration against the protocol is intended to show the region’s general dislike for the Brexit deal’s appendage and that the DUP’s hardline position on the settlement is not unusual or isolated, rather it is shared by other like-minded parties.
The alliance made clear the damage the protocol is doing to Northern Ireland and has argued that cordial relations between the region and the EU cannot be achieved as long as EU laws are still in force. Under the protocol, Northern Ireland effectively remains in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, a fact that is aggravating to unionists.
“Northern Ireland is a constituent part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by reason of the Acts of Union 1800 and the continuing express will of its people. The Union is both economic and political,” it said,
Earlier this year, the British government suspended certain parts of the protocol after it decided to extend a grace period for checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea from the UK mainland to Northern Ireland. The EU, however, is expected to publish new proposals to meek London’s demands and has promised not to take any retaliatory actions following the suspension.
The Northern Ireland Protocol has effectively erected a trade barrier between the UK and Northern Ireland. Goods from the mainland will have to go through customs checks under the new rules whereas those arriving in Ireland from the North will face no trade barriers.
Northern Irish unionists see the settlement as an affront to their identity and existence in the troubled region and argue that the agreement distances them from the UK, to whom they are loyal.