Northern Ireland Unionists Round On Johnson Over Brexit Deal

Northern Irish MPs have accused Boris Johnson of “weakness on the union” as his Brexit deal faces a crucial vote in the Commons. 

The DUP and independent unionist MP Sylvia Hermon warned the PM of “considerable anxiety and indeed anger” in the region over the new agreement he has struck with Brussels. 

It is feared proposals in the deal for a regulatory border in the Irish Sea and changes to cross-community consent in Stormont will undermine the union. 

Johnson faced a barrage of questions whilst putting his deal to the Commons, as MPs sat on a Saturday for the first time in 37 years. 

It comes after reports emerged on Thursday night that loyalist groups in Northern Ireland have met to consider their response to what some are calling Johnson’s “awful betrayal”.

One senior source told Sky News that the meeting involved loyalists from all backgrounds rather than one group.

The source continued: “Civil disobedience on a large scale has been discussed, as well as a large rally.

“It is anticipated a public meeting will be called next week, inviting all loyalists to attend to make plans to resist Boris Johnson’s deal.”

(Left to right) DUP MPs Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, and Sammy Wilson listen as Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a statement in the House of Commons, London, to update the House on his new Brexit deal after the EU Council summit, on what has been dubbed "Super Saturday" . (Photo: PA Wire/PA Images)

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said: “Weariness in this House over Brexit should not be an excuse for weakness on Brexit or weakness on the union.”

The PM’s new deal takes the Northern Ireland out of the EU customs union, but places checks on some goods leaving Great Britain for Northern Ireland which could reach the EU. 

Dodds said there must be “Brexit for the whole of the United Kingdom”, leaving the single market and customs union as one.

He said: “This deal puts Northern Ireland, yes, in the UK customs union but applies de facto all the European customs union code – yes it does, read the detail.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson responds to questions after he delivered his statement on his new Brexit deal in the House of Commons, London, on what has been dubbed "Super Saturday". (Photo: PA Wire/PA Images)

Arrangements for the region will be regularly voted on in the Northern Ireland assembly. 

But this is achieved via a simple majority rather than with joint consent from both nationalist and unionist MLAs, which the Good Friday Agreement stipulates must happen for legislation in the region. 

“It drives a coach and horses through the Belfast Agreement by altering the cross-community consent mechanism,” said Dodds, before reminding the PM that he previously said he could “never” agree to an Irish Sea border. 

“Will he now abide by that and please reconsider the fact that we must leave as one nation together?,” asked Dodds. 

Johnson said it was “a pity” that the DUP were insisting on cross-community consent. 

“Because after all, I must be very frank about this, the people of this country have taken a great decision embracing the entire four nations of this country by a simple majority vote that went 52-48, which we’re honouring now,” the prime minister said. 

“I think that principle should be applied elsewhere and I see no reason why it should not be applied in Northern Ireland, and it is in full compatibility with the Good Friday Agreement.

Lady Sylvia Hermon, the independent unionist MP, also took on Johnson, asking him to reassure the region that “nothing in his deal that undermines the constitutional status for Northern Ireland”. 

“The prime minister will be well aware of the considerable anxiety and indeed anger caused to the unionist community in Northern Ireland since the publication of his Brexit deal,” she said.  

“I would like the PM to take this opportunity since he has not bothered until now to reach out and ensure the unionist community.”   

Johnson insisted the region’s status as part of the UK was “inviolable and intact” and pointed out that former UUP leader turned Tory Lord Trimble had backed the deal.  

“Do not quote Lord Trimble to me,” Hermon said to Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay later in the debate. “Give me a clear commitment.” 

DUP Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson also raged at the PM, telling him that while there would be no hard border on the island of Ireland, the UK was at risk of breaking up.  

“Will he accept that he may have avoided a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the Republic but he has put a legal, customs and economic border between the country to which we belong and the economy to which we depend?,” he said. 

“Rather than a great deal, this will do a great deal of damage to the union.” 

 Johnson said the deal “extracts the UK whole and entire from the EU customs union”, “protects Northern Ireland” and is “being done by consent”.  

He called his deal an “ingenious scheme that gets Northern Ireland out of the customs union and allows the whole of the UK to do trade together with minimum, minimum bureaucracy”.  

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