A body claiming to be a loyal paramilitary organization told Boris Johnson that illegal groups were withdrawing support for the historic Northern Ireland agreement.
The Loyalty Communities Council (LCC) said the groups were temporarily withdrawing their support for the Belfast-Good Friday agreement amid growing concerns about the controversial Northern Ireland protocol regulating post-Brexit trade in Ireland by sea.
However, they stressed that the Allied opposition to the protocol must remain “peaceful and democratic”
The 1998 agreement, which loyal paramilitaries backed 23 years ago, ended decades of violence and created delegated powers in Stormont.
British ministers are facing a backlash from trade unionists who fear that the post-Brexit protocol threatens Northern Ireland’s place in Britain’s internal market.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and other unionist parties are pushing for the protocol to be lifted, saying it has driven an economic wedge between the region and Britain, which undermines the union.
The letter to Johnson said the paramilitaries’ position would continue until the protocol was amended to ensure “unrestricted access for goods, services and citizens across the UK.”
It adds: “If you or the EU are not prepared to fully comply with the agreement, then you will be responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement.”
The development occurred when the UK government took unilateral action to extend the grace period, which restricts the flow of documents related to the movement of agricultural food products from Britain to Northern Ireland.
The EU has criticized the move, saying it risks violating the terms of the protocol.
Goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the UK are subject to additional processes and inspections, as the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December.
This bureaucracy will increase significantly when the grace period ends. From now on, supermarkets and other retailers will require EU health certificates for UK agri-food exports.
The letter to the prime minister was written by David Campbell, chairman of the LCC. He wrote a similar letter to the Irish Taoist, Michael Martin.
The LCC represents the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defense Association, and Red Hand commandos, which are responsible for many deaths during the 30-year conflict.
Major loyal and Republican armed groups joined principles such as a commitment to nonviolence during discussions that led to the signing of the Belfast agreement in exchange for the early release of prisoners.
The letter said: “We are concerned about the disruption of trade and trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom that is happening, but our main objection is much more fundamental.”
It says that during the Brexit talks, the government and the EU said it was paramount to protect the Belfast agreement and its built-in safeguards for the two main communities in Northern Ireland. The letter states that the operation of the protocol “repeatedly violates these objectives”.
Campbell insisted that the LCC leadership was determined that the opposition to the protocol should be “peaceful and democratic.”
“However, please do not underestimate the strength of feelings on this issue in the whole family of unionists,” he wrote.
The protocol aims to prevent the imposition of a hard border on the island of Ireland, while respecting Northern Ireland in compliance with EU trade rules.
This has disrupted some goods traveling from the rest of the UK as suppliers have tried to break the extra bureaucracy.
Police note growing discontent in union communities. The Chief of the Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI), Simon Byrne, had previously warned of a “febrile” atmosphere and called on people to step back from the brink of violence.
This year, port inspection staff were suspended in response to ominous graffiti, but they continued to work after police insisted there was no credible threat against them.
Last week, Stormont DUP Secretary of Agriculture Gordon Lyons halted preparatory work for building permanent trade inspections of the Irish Sea in ports.
This move, the legality of which has been challenged by colleagues, has not affected the ongoing inspections, as they take place in temporary port facilities.