The leaders of the four main unionist parties have signed a declaration reaffirming their opposition to the contentious NI Protocol.
he declaration, released on Tuesday by DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson, Doug Beattie (UUP), TUV leader Jim Allister and Billy Hutchinson from the PUP, calls for the protocol to be ditched.
The protocol effectively creates a trade border down the Irish sea between NI and the rest of the UK and was put in place to avoid placing border checks between the Republic and NI.
The declaration states: “We… affirm our opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, its mechanisms and structures and reaffirm our unalterable position that the protocol must be rejected and replaced by arrangements which fully respect Northern Ireland’s position as a constituent and integral part of the United Kingdom.”
The joint statement goes on to insist that economically, “the protocol has inflicted grave damage on many business sectors, which will increase with the end of grace periods”.
“The huge disruption of trade in the supply of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland has caused unnecessary supply chain disruption and unacceptable and unsustainable levels of bureaucracy and barriers to trade within our own nation,” it explains.
“The resulting diversion and reorientation of trade is destructive of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom and will result in an economic realignment which is unacceptable.”
The leaders stress the current status quo in which the European Union “asserts sovereignty over economic and trading matters in Northern Ireland, subjecting us to their laws – which we cannot change – and the rule of the European Court of Justice without local political representation” creates “a major democratic deficit”.
“Going forward, any agreement which fails to ensure a proportionate and equitable solution which respects the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and restores our unfettered place within the Internal Market, cannot command the support of the unionist community,” it continued.
“We wish nothing more than good and practical relations with the European Union and the Irish Republic which is our nearest neighbour and with whom we share a frontier between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
“However, this cannot be achieved with Great Britain designated as a ‘third country’, with a regulatory border partitioning the United Kingdom, and subjecting Northern Ireland to European Union laws and jurisdiction.”
This fresh sign of unity comes just days after Mr Beattie ruled out a unionist pact with the DUP for next year’s Assembly elections.
Mr Donaldson had urged unionists to work together to help return “as many as possible pro-Union, anti-protocol MLAs”.
In response, Mr Beattie said there “will be no pacts”.