Northern Ireland

Unionist backlash after PUP's John Kyle says protocol offers 'significant opportunities'

Unionists and loyalists are opposed to the protocol
Unionists and loyalists are opposed to the protocol

PUP councillor John Kyle has faced a backlash from other unionists after saying the Northern Ireland protocol presents "significant opportunities" for Northern Ireland.

The east Belfast councillor said "serious problems" with the post-Brexit trade arrangements needed to be addressed but that the region was in a "unique position".

The comments come a matter of weeks after Mr Kyle's party withdrew support for the Good Friday Agreement, with leader Billy Hutchinson claiming the protocol was undermining the principle of consent.

The Progressive Unionist Party has historically been aligned to the UVF.

But in comments that are seemingly out of step with the majority view within political unionism, Mr Kyle said there was potential in the protocol if "fundamental" changes were made.

"If we address those serious problems, if we see that there needs to be fundamental change in the Northern Ireland Protocol, then there are also significant opportunities there," he said on BBC's The View.

"Businesses in Northern Ireland will be able to export to the European Union without the regulatory restrictions that are placed on all other businesses in Great Britain."

He said unionism needed to "stand back and look at the opportunities".

"They will also have access to the UK internal market that other businesses in the EU do not have access to, so we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the UK internal market and the EU market," he said.

"We are in a unique position that gives us an opportunity that no one else has, and we need to look at ways to exploit that."

In response to the remarks, a DUP statement said the party's plan to combat the protocol was "succeeding" and that it anticipated a "proper outcome" to the negotiations between the UK government and the EU.

"Now is not the time for unionism to divide – we must keep our nerve and see this through," the statement said.

"GB is our most important market by value and volume. The Irish Sea border must go."

The TUV attacked Mr Kyle's comments, saying he was "badly out of touch".

The party's East Belfast assembly candidate John Ross said: “There are no opportunities for us to control much of our own future while we are governed by foreign laws which we cannot change overseen by a foreign court."

But Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said Mr Kyle "is right."

"Not seeing the issue here. @cllrjohnkyle is saying the protocol needs fundamental change. This is not new. He has given an intelligent, thoughtful analysis including the collapse of Stormont would be bad for unionist. He is right," Mr Beattie said on Twitter.