Ian Paisley Jr, an MP for Northern Ireland‘s DUP; Mark Francois, the chair of the European Research Group; and David Jones, the deputy chair of the European Research Group have all warned that Northern Ireland is teetering on the edge of political turmoil as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Mr Francois, the Conservative MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, warned that the “clock is ticking” for the Government to act on the issue. He told Express.co.uk that without action being taken to save the Good Friday Agreement, also known as the Belfast Agreement, Northern Ireland could see “a return to violence”.
The Belfast Agreement, signed in 1998, brought an end to the Troubles.
But the Northern Ireland Protocol has been accused of undermining this agreement.
The Protocol, which was agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland after the UK left the EU, allowed Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods.
It has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea, leading to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.
Echoing Mr Francois’ warning, the DUP’s Mr Paisley warned that the Protocol as it currently stands has “created the potential for civil unrest on our streets”.
He added: “Europe is never going to move on this.
“Europe is going to keep kicking the can down the road and delaying and stalling.
“Meanwhile the situation on the ground will get worse.
“We had some disruption and tension earlier in the year with regards to civil unrest.
“I just fear that something needs to happen that could spark this off again. We just cant afford that.”
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Mr Jones, MP for Clwyd West, agreed that the Northern Ireland Protocol could be undermining the Belfast Agreement, telling Express.co.uk: “Winning the peace in Northern Ireland was a very hard fought process.
“We had thirty years of conflict in Northern Ireland and a lot of families are still feeling the pain of the Troubles. We can’t go back to that state of affairs.
“The Belfast Agreement is the best means of securing that.
“And when we hear people as highly respected as David Trimble – who was one of the architects of that agreement – saying that it is being undermined by the Protocol, we have to listen very carefully to them.
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“If the protocol is, as many respected people say, undermining the Belfast Agreement, the Government has a duty to make sure that is put a stop to and that we allow the Belfast Agreement to continue to maintain the peace in Northern Ireland as it has done for twenty years now.”
This comes as Sinn Fein, a party closely associated with violence during the Troubles, is on course to become the biggest party in Northern Ireland’s government in the election tomorrow.
The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol since October 2021.
But it was recently claimed that the Government plans to use the Queen’s Speech, taking place later this month, to threaten to scrap the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Plans are reportedly being drawn up to give UK ministers the power to unilaterally remove key parts of the agreement signed with Brussels in 2019.
According to Government sources – who spoke to LBC – the planned legislation would grant ministers the power to suspend checks on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – one of the key issues with the Protocol.
The impact of the new legislation would reportedly be even more far-reaching than the triggering of Article 16, which would still require checks on some goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The new plans would bypass Article 16 and the Brexit agreement entirely, replacing it with new UK legislation.
Speaking to Express.co.uk about the issues with the Protocol, Mr Francois said: “Throughout what I call the whole ‘Battle for Brexit’ the EU argued repeatedly that they were determined to uphold the Good Friday Agreement – but their actions, or rather inactions, are now having precisely the opposite effect.
“The highly officious way in which they have interpreted the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol, akin to a militant trade union ‘working to rule’ has so angered the Unionist community, that political stability in Northern Ireland is now being seriously damaged.
“Even the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Lord Trimble, who was one of the key architects of the original Good Friday Agreement, is now warning that EU inaction over the Protocol could undermine the GFA itself.
“The Good Friday Agreement is based, fundamentally, on the principle of cross-community consent and if either community withdraws that consent, the Agreement is doomed to fail.
“We have already seen the portents of this, with the collapse of the devolved Government of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive, over the lack of progress on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“If, ultimately, the EU will not listen to reason, then the UK Government may have to contemplate legislating unilaterally, which they now have the legal ability to do, in order to save the Good Friday Agreement itself from collapse.
“In Michel Barnier’s famous phrase, ‘the clock is now ticking’ to save the Good Friday Agreement, without which we could see a return to violence in Northern Ireland, which absolutely no one wants to see.”