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NI Protocol issues can be resolved with goodwill and common sense, Boris Johnson says

Loyalist paramilitaries in NI have said they are withdrawing their support for the GFA.

UVF mural in support the of Ulster loyalist paramilitary group, on the wall of a property on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast
UVF mural in support the of Ulster loyalist paramilitary group, on the wall of a property on the Lower Newtownards Road in east Belfast
Image: PA Images

Updated Mar 4th 2021, 8:27 PM

THE BRITISH PRIME Miniter has insisted that “goodwill and common sense” will deliver resolutions to contentious post-Brexit Irish Sea trading arrangements.

Boris Johnson expressed confidence that issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol are “eminently solvable”, amid a further escalation of political and societal tensions over the terms of his Brexit divorce deal.

The EU is considering legal action against the UK after the government unilaterally extended a grace period that is currently limiting red tape associated with the protocol governing trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In a separate development, loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland have withdrawn their support for the historic Good Friday peace agreement in protest against arrangements they contend have driven an economic wedge between the region and the rest of the UK.

Their move was conveyed in a letter to both Johnson and the Taoiseach Michéal Martin.

Asked about the letter from the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), an umbrella group representing three outlawed paramilitary groups, Johnson indicated he had not seen the correspondence.

Speaking to broadcasters at Teesport, Middlesbrough, he added: “But what I can say is we are taking some temporary and technical measures to ensure that there are no barriers in the Irish Sea, to make sure things flow freely between GB and NI, and that’s what you would expect.

“Obviously these are matters for continuing intensive discussions with our friends.

“I’m sure with a bit of goodwill and common sense all these technical problems are eminently solvable.”

The LCC represents the Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association and Red Hand Commando, which were responsible for many deaths during 30 years of conflict.

The paramilitaries said they are temporarily withdrawing their backing of the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday accord amid mounting concerns about the protocol.

The LCC leadership stressed unionist opposition to the protocol should remain “peaceful and democratic”.

Its letter warns the protocol undermines the “basis on which the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) agreed their 1994 ceasefire and subsequent support for the Belfast Agreement”.

Commenting on the LCC letter, Northern Ireland’s Chief Constable Simon Byrne said he does not believe loyalists are likely to return to violence.

“Our initial assessment is that this is a political move,” he told the Northern Ireland Policing Board on Thursday.

“We don’t see the prospect of a return to protest or violence. We are prudently looking at an assessment of what that means in terms of a policing response or indeed any need to change our posture over the weeks ahead.”

Tensions have been ratcheting up in loyalist communities since the protocol came into effect at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

NI First Minister Arlene Foster said she did not have advance notice of the letter.

“It’s not surprising to me after having met the LCC this day last week they were very clear about the difficulties with the protocol,” she said.

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“I had not seen the letter before it went and why would I – this is a letter coming from the LCC to the Prime Minister and to the Taoiseach.

I do welcome the fact that they have said they will use peaceful and democratic means, I very much welcome that.

“It’s so important that we deal with matters through politics and through the constitutional way of dealing with issues, whether that’s through politics or through the courts or whatever. I think that that is to be welcomed.”

NI deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill criticised the loyalist groupings and questioned their ongoing existence.

“I think the question that needs to be answered is, 23 years after the Good Friday Agreement, why loyalist paramilitary groups still exist, way they’re still carrying out organised crime, racketeering and extortion, holding communities to ransom?” she said.

“I think everybody in political leadership has a responsibility to encourage and to tell these groups to leave the stage. There is no place for them in today’s society.”

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