‘Peace or protocol?’: Loyalist protesters say the government has a choice to make

They were beating the drums so hard in Newtownards, County Down, you could almost have heard them in Downing Street.

Loyalists are taking to the streets of Northern Ireland on an almost weekly basis to demand Boris Johnson scraps the Irish Sea border.

Jamie Bryson organised this rally. A loyalist close to the thinking of some paramilitaries, he says the government has a choice to make.

Mr Bryson said: “It says on the banner peace or the protocol, it’s your choice. They can listen or they cannot listen.

“But if they want to have peace and stability in Northern Ireland, then they’re going to have to make a change to the partition of the United Kingdom.”

Asked about the danger of bringing people onto the streets, he said it was more dangerous to partition the UK.

“If unionism don’t stand now and don’t take to the streets now, then what else do they do?” he asked.

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The UK and EU agreed to put the Northern Ireland Protocol in place to avoid the introduction of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit.

At the rally on Friday, platform speakers like Baroness Hoey said the protocol threatened the Good Friday Agreement rather than protected it.

The sea border has left this community feeling isolated from the rest of the United Kingdom, their British identity under threat.

Heather Ramsay, who attended the protest, said: “We have to get rid of the protocol. The protocol must go. It’s diluting our unionism with Britain.

“We’re feeling very alone, we’re feeling as if we’ve been abandoned, we’re feeling as if nobody wants us to be part of them.”

Loyalists view the sea border as appeasement – the EU’s response to threats of republican violence in the event of a border on this island.

But that’s created the dangerous impression that violence or the threat of it brings reward.

Hazel Officer, another participant in the rally, said: “The other side have got everything they wanted by causing mayhem, fear and death.

“Maybe it’s about time we thought about doing the same. I certainly am willing to give my life for it.”

These people did not expect Brexit to result in an Irish Sea border and feel betrayed by the the prime minister.

That has left unionist parties, like the DUP, boxed in with no room for any compromise to save devolved government.

In other words, Brexit and its consequences could signal the end of power-sharing at Stormont, leaving a dangerous political vacuum.

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