A body claiming to represent loyal paramilitary organizations has told Boris Johnson that outlaw groups are withdrawing their support for the historic Northern Ireland peace deal.
The Loyal Communities Council (LCC) said the groups were temporarily withdrawing their support for the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement amid mounting concerns over the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol governing post-Brexit Irish Sea trade.
However, they emphasized that the union opposition to the protocol must remain “peaceful and democratic.”
The 1998 agreement endorsed by loyalist paramilitaries 23 years ago ended decades of violence and established the delegation of powers in Stormont.
UK ministers are facing backlash from trade unionists who fear the post-Brexit protocol threatens Northern Ireland’s place in the UK domestic market.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and other unionist parties are pushing for the protocol to be dropped, saying it has driven an economic rift between the region and Britain that undermines the union.
The letter sent to Johnson said the paramilitaries’ stance would continue until the protocol was amended to guarantee “unrestricted access to goods, services and citizens throughout the UK.”
He added: “If you or the EU are not prepared to honor the entire agreement, you will be responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement.”
The event came as the UK government took unilateral steps on Wednesday to extend a grace period that has been limiting the red tape associated with moving agri-food products from Britain to Northern Ireland.
The EU criticized the move, claiming it risked violating the terms of the protocol.
Goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain have undergone additional processes and controls since the Brexit transition period ended on December 31.
That bureaucracy will intensify significantly when the grace period ends. From that point on, supermarkets and other retailers will require EU export health certificates for Britain’s agri-food products.
The letter to the prime minister was written by David Campbell, president of the LCC. He wrote a similar letter to the Irish Taoiseach, Micheál Martin.
The LCC represents the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defense Association and the Red Hand Command, which were responsible for many deaths during the 30-year conflict.
The main Republican and loyalist armed groups adhered to principles such as a commitment to non-violence during the discussions that led to the signing of the Belfast accord in exchange for the prompt release of the prisoners.
The letter said: “We are concerned about the disruption of trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK that is occurring, but our main objection is much more fundamental.”
He said that during the Brexit negotiations, the government and the EU said it was paramount to protect the Belfast Agreement and its built-in safeguards for Northern Ireland’s two main communities. The letter said that the operation of the protocol “repeatedly violates those 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 sentiment on this issue throughout the Unionist family,” he wrote.
The protocol is designed to avoid imposing a strict border on the island of Ireland by keeping Northern Ireland following EU trade rules.
It has caused disruptions for some products traveling from the rest of the UK as suppliers have struggled to overcome additional red tape.
Police have noted growing discontent in union communities. The Chief of Police of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Simon Byrne, previously warned of a “feverish” atmosphere and urged people to stay away from the brink of violence.
Inspection personnel at ports were temporarily removed from their duties this year in response to sinister graffiti, but resumed their work after police insisted there was no credible threat against them.
Last week, Stormont DUP agriculture minister Gordon Lyons halted preparatory work to build permanent trade controls in the Irish Sea at ports.
This move, the legality of which has been questioned by fellow executives, did not affect the ongoing controls, because they were being carried out at temporary port facilities.