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‘Free us from the Protocol’ | DUP have launched a five point plan in bid to see change

The Democratic Unionist Party have this evening launched a five point plan to demand changes from Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the Northern Ireland Protocol which they believe has been impeding free flow of goods between GB and the province.

According to the DUP’s action plan, the five points are:

  • United message from unionists – free us from the Protocol

  • Oppose all Protocol related measures in the NI Assembly

  • Build support in Parliament to free us from the Protocol

  • Launch Parliamentary e-petition “Trigger Article 16 – We want unfettered GB-NI Trade”

  • Stop all North-South Protocol related activity

Statement Democratic Unionist Party

The decision by the European Union on Friday evening to announce its intention to trigger Article 16, and then its subsequent announcement that while not deploying this mechanism, that it reserved the right to use all instruments at its disposal for the future, was both revealing and a very significant game-changer for those who have opposed the Protocol from its inception.

By announcing its intention to override elements of the Protocol the EU has demonstrated a number of things for all to see, and particularly for people in Northern Ireland.

  1. That the Protocol can be changed and either party to it can make immediate changes without prior consultation with the other. Such behaviour without regard to the very rules it had signed up to further undermined the EU’s previous vacuous arguments.

  2. Confirmed the notion that the EU Commission will, without hesitation, act to suit its own interests.

  3. Lowered the threshold of how the mechanism can be used, particularly as in our view it is designed to alleviate Northern Ireland consequences defined as “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade, the Union or the United Kingdom may unilaterally take appropriate safeguard measures”.

  4. Revealed that the Northern Ireland arguments advanced by the EU were not borne out of principle but rather political opportunism.

The revealing actions on Friday by the EU have caused very significant anger and harm within Northern Ireland and has compounded the notion that the EU is playing fast and loose with Northern Ireland, attempting on the one hand to require the UK Government to enforce its obligations whilst being prepared to waive elements of the Protocol when it suits the needs of the EU. This is unsustainable. It is evident that the EU’s priority is not protecting the Belfast Agreement but is entirely about protecting its own single market.

Northern Ireland is already suffering real economic and societal difficulties as a consequence of the first month of the Protocol.

The Democratic Unionist Party opposed the Protocol in Parliament and when its votes mattered on the floor of the House of Commons prevented the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement, containing the Protocol. As Unionists we find the imposition of this Protocol and its outworkings offensive and running contrary to everything we stand for. No sovereign country should have barriers to trade and customs arrangements placed within it. When others were campaigning for a backstop we strongly warned of the dangers.

From the Protocol came into force on 1st January 2021 our Ministers, MLAs and Members of the Commons and Lords have worked to highlight the problems and barriers imposed by the Protocol.

Since Friday evening’s EU threats we have been in contact with the UK Government from the Prime Minister, to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove. At a meeting with the NI Secretary of State and senior officials from Downing Street yesterday afternoon we made it clear that the UK Government has an obligation to defend Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market which is being severely undermined by the growing barriers and impediments to trade in the Irish Sea.

We have indicated to the Government that both the actions of the EU on Friday and the damage being inflicted on our East –West links within the United Kingdom cannot be sustained if Northern Ireland’s political and economic links to the rest of the United Kingdom are to be maintained and respected in all their parts. The Protocol has upset the balance of relationships flowing from the Belfast Agreement that many others claimed were unalterable.

The Government needs to be bold and be prepared to act to bring about outcomes that underpin Northern Ireland’s full place in the most important internal market for us – that of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister must now directly address the people of Northern Ireland on the growing crisis arising from the Protocol.

For our part, the Democratic Unionist Party has been working to minimise disruption caused by something we opposed while pressing for more radical steps to be taken to negate it completely.

In response to the approach adopted by the EU and welcoming the total opposition by all NI Unionist representatives in both the Assembly and Westminster to the Protocol the DUP will pursue the following: -

  • We will work with other Unionists to send a united message to our Government, to the European Commission and the Dublin Government that Northern Ireland must be freed from the Protocol and its problems.

  • The Protocol was passed by the Westminster Parliament and not at Stormont. Our elected representatives in the Northern Ireland Assembly, while careful not to act in a way that would harm the people of Northern Ireland at this time of public health and economic crisis, will actively oppose at every opportunity any negative measures, laws or bills that continue to flow from the Protocol and which undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market. We will work in common purpose with all those other MLAs who are prepared to support us. Collectively unionism can make a difference.

  • Our Ministers, Members of the Commons and the Lords will actively work to press the Government and hold it to account in support of Northern Ireland’s place in the internal UK market as well as building support to free us from the Protocol and its problems.

  • We are shortly launching an e-petition at Parliament calling on the UK Government to use all powers at its disposal to immediately remove any barriers to unfettered trade within the United Kingdom. We are asking all citizens concerned about these issues to show the Government the strength of feeling by signing the “Trigger Article 16 – We want unfettered GB-NI Trade” online e-petition at petition.parliament.uk and further details will follow.

  • We have indicated to our own Government that they now need to act but as the largest unionist party at Stormont we also intend to send a strong signal to the Government of the Republic of Ireland that North-South relationships are also impacted by the implementation of a Protocol which they supported. Our members cannot and will not continue to act as though relationships are normal.

Progress in Northern Ireland was hard won and in recent times it was a well-established principle that in order to respect the delicate community balance within Northern Ireland no governance arrangements could advance unless they had the support of both unionists and nationalists as to do otherwise would result in failure and greater division.

In recent days there has been reported threats on staff and others who carry out their daily duties. All political parties have rightly condemned threats of violence and any unacceptable threats should not be taken into account as part of the equation, by either the UK Government or the EU, as a reason not to deal with the Protocol and the trade problems flowing from it.

It is now the solemn responsibility of all those in leadership but, particularly the UK Government, to move quickly to bring about solutions to the significant societal, environmental and economic difficulties caused by a Protocol that is without any unionist support whatsoever.

The plan comes after rising tensions surrounding the NI Protocol and the derision that followed the temporary triggering of Article 16 by the EU over concerns around Covid-19 vaccine supplies.

The DUP Leader and First Minister Arlene Foster issued a statement on Friday (29 January) calling the move by the EU an ‘incredible act of hostility’.

A spokesperson for the TUV responded to the DUP announcement on the Protocol saying:

“Having last week set out a political plan of action to unstitch the Protocol and urged pan-unionist action, TUV welcomes any moves in that direction. Any such action needs to be determined and sustained. We continue to believe that the greatest political leverage lies in discomforting north/southery.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave his response to the growing unrest among Northern Ireland’s unionist population. He commented:

“Our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland and our Union is unshakeable. Recent EU moves have undermined the Protocol & understandably provoked concern. Let me underline that, now & in the future, Northern Ireland’s place in the UK will be protected and strengthened.

“What is needed is urgent action from the EU to resolve outstanding problems with Protocol implementation, so as to preserve the gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement & ensure that Northern Ireland benefits from Brexit just like every other part of our United Kingdom.”