Northern Ireland

PUP says DUP-British government deal does not allay unionist fears

Deal has split unionist opinion

PUP leader and Coleraine councillor Russell Watton
PUP leader Russell Watton

The Progressive Unionist Party has said that the recent DUP-British government deal does not allay unionist fears.

Details of the Safeguarding the Union pact were revealed in a command paper published last month.

The deal saw the DUP return to the Stormont executive after a two-year absence in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol, which puts a border down the Irish Sea.

The agreement has split unionist opinion.

The PUP said it has consulted widely on the contents of the paper.

The party’s intervention comes amid speculation that the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which includes representatives of loyalist paramilitary groups, has backed the deal.

A statement posted on social media and signed by PUP leader Russell Watton voiced concerns.

“Our position has always been safeguarding the union, the command paper carrying the same title does little to allay our fears and that of those who we represent,” he said.

“We have consulted with his majesty’s government, political opinion formers and indeed listened to views from many other sources and whilst the command paper addresses some of the concerns it does not in our opinion cover the most fundamental issues expressed previously by all shades of political unionism.”

Earlier this month former Attorney General John Larkin KC rejected the contention that the deal to restore Stormont removed an Irish Sea border.

Mr Watton, who sits on Causeway Coast and Glens council, referenced Mr Larkin’s legal opinion adding that “the continuing build-up of checkpoints on all our ports for apparently a small portion of traffic defies explanation and indeed suggests more checks in the future”.

“There is nothing in the command paper that removes our fear on an all-Ireland economy, in conclusion the party leader believes the command paper does not safeguard the union and is a reworking of the Windsor Framework,” he said.

“However, we will keep a watch on developments and continue to express opinions on behalf of our working-class loyalist constituents.”

Last week a leading expert in loyalism, Dr Aaron Edwards, said that the LCC has backed the deal.

Set up in 2015, the LCC includes representatives of the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando but excludes some loyalist paramilitary factions, including the breakaway South East Antrim UDA unit.

To date it has not made any public comment.