Northern Ireland

Fractured unionism could unite to fight against Brexit protocol

WHILE Brexit was supported by the DUP not all of unionism was united in championing EU withdrawal. Security Correspondent Allison Morris gauges opinion within the unionist and loyalist community

Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.
Loyalist blogger Jamie Bryson.

WHILE many unionists felt Brexit was an opportunity to strengthen their place in the UK, the four years of negotiations that followed have merely caused a crisis of confidence.

The 'Boris Betrayal' act and the protocol that places checks at the ports and airports on goods entering the north from Britain has this week pushed loyalist and unionist reaction into sharp focus.

Orange Order Grand Secretary Mervyn Gibson, voted in favour of Brexit saying he felt it was an opportunity to "regain sovereignty" from the EU.

The Orange Order's Mervyn Gibson says unionism must unite against the protocol.
The Orange Order's Mervyn Gibson says unionism must unite against the protocol.

A former member of the RUC, he represents the views of traditional unionists, loyal to both 'crown and country'.

"I did vote for Brexit. I did so because I wanted sovereignty back over our matters, all aspects of our affairs, full sovereignty was what I was looking for.

"I also trusted the government to keep us together, for us to leave as one an believed all those issues around customs could be addressed during the negotiations.

"I expected my identity to be strengthened rather than weakened.

"So am I angry at how it has turned out? I'm disgusted.

"The blame for that lies firmly at the foot of the prime minster. Once he gained a majority no one had any influence over him."

Mr Gibson said that the mechanism, to vote to either remove or retain the protocol in four years times was not enough to satisfy the anger among unionists.

"The protocol needs removed. The Irish sea border needs removed and it needs to be done immediately. It should never have been there in the first place."

Despite all that has happened since the referendum Mr Gibson says he does not believe Brexit strengthens the case for a border poll.

"I do think it is being used opportunistically by some nationalists", he said.

"I'm not obsessed by a border poll, my focus and unionisms focus should be to strengthen the union by promoting the benefits of the union.

"I believe there's an awakening around that in recent times.

"We need a unionist movement that cooperates fully on issues of sovereignty, to ensure that our place in the UK isn't diminished."

While Mr Gibson says that the pictures of empty shelves were a cause of concern it was reports that the protocol would require the armed forces to sign declarations to move equipment that has really angered members of his community.

"Look I never wanted any border, not on land or sea, I've always thought there was another solution but there was never any real consideration given to finding one, I still think there is a solution if the will is there", he added.

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson has been a vocal supporter of Brexit as well as a critic of the withdrawal agreement.

Believed to have the ear of several of the more hard line members of the DUP, he said: "The route to resisting this protocol is via political action, it is the DUP who hold the most potent weapons by which to resist this".

"The only way to provide a release valve for the growing anger is to take robust political action, such as pulling down North-South bodies", he said.

"Loyalism is collectively working hard to calm tensions, nevertheless this job of promoting has been made more difficult by the stark reality that nationalism set a powderkeg precedent by whipping up potential threats of violence as a means of gaining political leverage", he added.

East Belfast loyalist Jim Wilson.
East Belfast loyalist Jim Wilson.

Jim Wilson is a former member of the Red Hand Commando, he says loyalists need to be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the flag protests.

"At the minute it's like a kettle simmering, but at any minute could come to a boil," said the east Belfast loyalist.

"I've seen it all over the years. Three hundred kids ended up with criminal records over the flag protests and what did we achieve? We vented anger on the streets and it got us no where.

"Going forward we need a strategic way to show the government that we are angry.

"Politicians have a role, they need to know what is said can inflame people, especially young lads who are loyal and could go out and act on the back of someone else's words.

"My personal view is that it's up to Arlene Foster and others to let the British government see what they are doing to our people, to our community".