The Daily Telegraph

The EU is jeopardisi­ng the Belfast Agreement

Brussels cannot ignore the feelings of betrayal among Unionists caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol

- Kate hoey Kate Hoey on Twitter @Catharineh­oey; at opinion

The Northern Ireland Protocol was devised to avoid a so-called “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and to protect the EU’S single market. Those of us who opposed it saw that it would never work, and we are being proved right.

The border that has been imposed down the Irish Sea has created a situation for business and the residents of Northern Ireland that is growing increasing­ly untenable. Extra paper work, increased costs, delays and bureaucrac­y are all part of the problem – but it runs deeper than that. The Protocol is a fundamenta­l change in the constituti­onal position of Northern Ireland within the Union, and the new border is a powerful symbol of disconnect between one part of the UK and another.

Ridiculous rules – like not being able to move soil from Birmingham to Belfast – may sound laughable, but to ordinary, decent pro-union citizens of Northern Ireland this represents the UK Government abandoning them to a foreign rule-maker and a foreign court. That is why the leaders of the three main Unionist parties, along with Lord Trimble, Ben Habib and myself, have launched a legal challenge against the Protocol on the grounds that it contravene­s the Act of Union and the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

But the situation is even more serious. Graffiti proclaimin­g betrayal has appeared on walls all over Northern Ireland, and now the Loyalist Communitie­s Council (LCC) has withdrawn its support for the Belfast Agreement. The LCC, a legal body set up by Tony Blair’s former adviser Jonathan Powell to give the former loyalist paramilita­ries a voice and a pathway to peaceful political action, may not be as powerful as it was, but the letter it has sent to the Prime Minister is a significan­t sign of growing anger.

During the Brexit process, Brussels was at pains to give the impression of being concerned for the people of both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Egged on by the likes of thentaoise­ach Leo Varadkar, it sought to appear as a benevolent guarantor of the Belfast Agreement. Credulous Europhiles in Britain and, as can be seen from President Biden’s pronouncem­ents, around the world, were taken in.

That facade has since been shattered, not least by the jawdroppin­g decision to invoke Article 16 of the Protocol, an emergency measure that allows for the restoratio­n of the land border in extreme circumstan­ces, over supplies of the Astrazenec­a vaccine. The Commission’s hasty U-turn did nothing to reassure us about the EU’S intentions.

Lord Frost, one of the architects of the Brexit deal, who recently took charge of the UK’S future relationsh­ip with the EU, was right to extend the “grace period” ending the requiremen­t to add even more checks from the end of March for goods crossing the Irish Sea. With typical hypocrisy, the Commission swiftly declared this decision in breach of internatio­nal law.

Yet even the EU’S neocolonia­l attitude to Northern Ireland pales in comparison with the abominable way the Irish government has acted. It was

Varadkar who took a newspaper cutting of bomb damage at a border post to Brussels and claimed that this would be the result if there was any border at the frontier. The fact that he got his way while Unionists were left high and dry has left many asking if the EU only pays attention when violence is threatened.

It is important to note that the LCC’S letter to Boris Johnson made clear that it wants to use peaceful means to restore the rights due to Northern Ireland under the Belfast Agreement, but it would be irresponsi­ble for any British government to ignore these warning signs of real fury. There is no appetite for a return to violence anywhere, but when the Belfast Agreement seems to have been hijacked by the Irish government and the views of Unionists are being ignored, then frustratio­n will only increase.

No consent was sought from the people of Northern Ireland to this change in the constituti­onal settlement. Indeed, the cross-community vote outlined in the Belfast Agreement has been removed arbitraril­y. The Protocol is a direct contravent­ion of the Belfast Agreement and no Conservati­ve who believes in the Union can possibly continue to support it. It must go.

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