A body claiming to represent loyalist paramilitary organizations has told Boris Johnson that the banned groups are withdrawing support for Northern Ireland’s historic peace deal.
The Loyalist Communities Council (LCC) said the groups were temporarily withdrawing their support for the Belfast / Good Friday agreement due to growing concerns over the controversial Northern Ireland protocol governing Ireland̵
However, they stressed that unionist opposition to the protocol should remain “peaceful and democratic”.
The 1998 agreement, which loyalist paramilitaries approved 23 years ago, ended decades of violence and established handed over power sharing in Stormont.
British ministers face a setback from trade unionists who fear the protocol after Brexit threatens Northern Ireland’s place in the UK single market.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and other trade union parties are pushing for the protocol to be dropped, saying it has driven an economic wedge between the region and Britain that is undermining the union.
The letter sent to Johnson said the paramilitary stance would continue until the protocol was amended to ensure “unhindered access for goods, services and citizens throughout the UK”.
It added: “If you or the EU are not prepared to respect the entire agreement, you will be responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement.”
The development came when the British government on Wednesday acted to extend a grace period that has limited the paperwork associated with the relocation of farm food from the UK to Northern Ireland.
The EU criticized the movement, claiming that it risked violating the terms of the protocol.
Goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the UK have been subjected to added processes and controls since the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December.
That bureaucracy will be intensified significantly when the repayment period ends. From that point on, supermarkets and other retailers will require EU export health certificates for agri-food from the UK.
The letter to the Prime Minister was written by David Campbell, chairman of the LCC. He wrote a similar letter to the Irish Taoiseach, Micheál Martin.
LCC represents the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defense Association and the Red Hand Commando, which were responsible for many deaths during 30 years of conflict.
The main loyalists and Republican armed groups signed principles such as commitment to non-violence during discussions leading to the signing of the Belfast Agreement in exchange for the early release of prisoners.
The letter said: “We are concerned about the disruption of trade and commerce between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom that is taking place, but our core objection is much more fundamental.”
It said the government and the EU during the Brexit negotiations said it was extremely important to protect the Belfast Agreement and its built-in safeguards for the two most important communities in Northern Ireland. The letter said the operation of the protocol “repeatedly violates these objectives”.
Campbell insisted that the LCC leadership was determined that opposition to the protocol should be “peaceful and democratic”.
“However, do not underestimate the strength of feeling on this issue across the trade union family,” he wrote.
The Protocol is designed to prevent the imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland in line with EU trade rules.
It has caused disruption to some goods traveling from the rest of the UK as suppliers have struggled to overcome extra bureaucracy.
Police have noticed growing discontent in trade union communities. Chief Constable of the Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI), Simon Byrne, previously warned of a “feverish” atmosphere and urged people to step back from the brink of violence.
Port inspection staff were temporarily withdrawn from duty this year in response to gruesome graffiti, but they resumed their work after police insisted there was no credible threat to them.
Last week, Stormont’s DUP agriculture minister, Gordon Lyons, halted preparatory work to build permanent controls on the Irish Sea at ports.
This move, the legality of which has been contested by colleagues, did not affect the ongoing controls because they took place at temporary port facilities.