Loyalist paramilitaries have withdrawn support from the Good Friday Agreement over post-Brexit border measures.
The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) is an umbrella organisation that reportedly includes proscribed terror groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando. The group has written a letter to Boris Johnson and Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin. It warns that the 1998 peace agreement faces “destruction” if the border is imposed.
In the letter, which was first reported by the Irish News, LCC chair David Campbell said:
please do not underestimate the strength of feeling on this issue right across the unionist family. … Accordingly, I have been instructed to advise you that the loyalist groupings are herewith withdrawing their support for the Belfast agreement until our rights under the agreement are restored and the protocol is amended to ensure unfettered access for goods, services, and citizens throughout the United Kingdom. If the EU is not prepared to honour the entirety of the agreement then it will be responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement.
He said that Loyalist groups were:
hereby withdrawing support for the Belfast Agreement and its institutions until our rights under the agreement are restored
Campbell added that the groups were concerned that new border checks for goods coming in would create “disruption to trade and commerce between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom”.
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No return to violence?
Responding to the letter, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Jeffrey Donaldson spoke to the BBC. Donaldson said that following his own discussions with the LCC on the matter, he felt there was:
no sense that loyalist paramilitaries were going to revert to violence in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol. I think that is reflected in this statement. Of course we are very clear that choosing the path of violence is not the way to go in any circumstances.
The move drew criticism from politicians in the north of Ireland, but the implications are not yet clear. Stephen Farry, an MP with the centrist Alliance party, said:
The agreement stands on the basis of the dual referendums in 1998. I am more concerned at the continued escalation of rhetoric and building of unrealistic expectations that the protocol can be replaced in the absence of a plausible alternative.
Farry said he was concerned “that what is essentially a voice for proscribed terrorist organisations is becoming an actor in a political debate”.
Irish News security reporter Allison Morris, who broke the story, tweeted a full version of the LCC letter. She warned that while the move might be meant as a negotiating tactic, it could have a “destabilising” effect:
That LCC letter sent to Boris Johnson withdrawing support for the Belfast Agreement, the language is very different from what we’ve heard previously, this may well be seen as a negotiating tactic but is still a very concerning and potentially destabilising development pic.twitter.com/NYosNysGWT
— Allison Morris (@AllisonMorris1) March 4, 2021
But whether or not the letter is intended as a negotiation tool, these threatening words are a worrying sign. And it is yet more evidence that the Tories have failed Ireland when it comes to Brexit.
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