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UVF threaten violence if Northern Ireland Protocol is not axed

"Nobody wants violence but there is only one way to prevent it. It's up to the government, their choice"
The UVF has issued a warning to the government about the Protocol

The UVF has issued a warning to the government about the Protocol

Richard Sullivan

The UVF has warned the Government violence will return to Northern Ireland's streets if they don't bin the Protocol.

The loyalist paramilitary group has issued a series of threats as part of their anti-Protocol campaign and were behind the hoax bomb threat that forced Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney to leave a cross community meeting in Belfast in March.

They were behind a suspect device left on cross border rail links and they warned Irish politicians visiting the North would be regarded as legitimate targets.

They are also known to have orchestrated sporadic outbursts of rioting last summer which saw a number of buses hijacked - in one case by a group of armed and masked men - and set on fire.

In recent weeks they have adopted a wait and see approach as Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss ramp up the rhetoric around the Irish Sea border.

The Prime Minister has indicated the government will act unilaterally, in other words without agreement from Brussels, to tear down aspects of the withdrawal agreement.

Ms Truss has repeatedly said the Protocol in its current form must go and has urged the EU to compromise on its stance.

Simon Coveney being warned about a bomb threat

Simon Coveney being warned about a bomb threat

A senior loyalist source close to the UVF told the Sunday World they reserved the right to take their campaign to the streets should Boris break his word again.

He praised the DUP for their hardline stance and said anti-Protocol street protests had played a part, but he claimed it is threat of loyalist violence that has brought "Boris to his senses."

"The government has acknowledged the threat of violence is a valid reason to scrap the Protocol," he said.

"Nobody wants violence but there is only one way to prevent it. It's up to the government, their choice."

He said the DUP had "done everything they said they would."

"They have gone as far as they can, they have done everything they could. We have to see how this plays out."

Police at the scene as Simon Coveney is moved out of a building in north Belfast amid a security alert

Police at the scene as Simon Coveney is moved out of a building in north Belfast amid a security alert

From initially lauding the Protocol as a great deal for Northern Ireland, Johnson is now risking the wrath of his allies in Europe and the US by unilaterally taking it down.

"We have come from a position where it seemed the Protocol was unalterable, beyond our reach, to where we are now where it can be removed."

He admitted the move would put UK trading deals with European member states under pressure as well as distancing the Biden administration with whom Johnson is desperate to sign a trade deal.

"The government has heard the seriousness of this, it is a genuine threat to peace. The UVF take a view on whether they will deliver, if they don't then we are in a very dangerous situation where serious consideration will be given to the next stage of the campaign.

"Loyalism didn't want to be in this position, but we have nowhere else to go.

"They've (government) said that civil disruption is a direct reason for the Protocol to be changed. If they abandon that position having take us there, there is a very clear danger of violence."

The UVF's stance will heap further pressure on Johnson. He has seen the power sharing Executive hauled down on his watch with little prospect of it returning while the Protocol remains in place.

The prospect of a violent backlash nearly a quarter of a century after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement is something no one wants to contemplate.

It is difficult to see where he goes but it is speculated that his government is prepared to go it alone and take action on the Protocol in the hope it will be enough to satisfy the DUP, see Stormont up and running, avoid street violence, in the hope he can ride out the inevitable political storm that will come his way.

U.S. President Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden

Former Prime Ministers Theresa May and Sir John Major are among those who have said the UK's already damaged international reputation will be further tarnished if they tear up part of international treaty they will willingly signed up to.

Strained relations with Washington took another hit this week when outspoken former Brexit Minister Lord Frost told an American audience that the administration didn't understand Northern Ireland or the impact of the Protoco.

In a direct message to President Biden he said the UK "doesn't need lectures from others" about the Good Friday Agreement.

His comments came days after the White House urged the UK government not to put the GFA in jeopardy over the Protocol.

Lord David Frost

Lord David Frost

"We urge the parties to continue engaging in dialogue to resolve differences and bring negotiations to a successful conclusion," said a White House Spokesperson.

But speaking at an event in Washington Lord Frost hit back.

"I get slightly frustrated when we are told by a third party, albeit a very important one in this context, how to manage these issues," he said.

"It is our country that faced terrorism, faced the Troubles. I am old enough to remember having to check under my car every morning as a diplomat before I went to work.

"So we don't need lectures from others about the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement."

richard.sullivan@sundayworld.com


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