The Orange Institution has used every opportunity available to express its strong opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, including meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis MP, Brexit Minister Lord Frost, representatives of the European Commission and through the media.
This opposition is shared by Unionism collectively, including our Unionist parties, and along with the overwhelming majority within Unionism we asked that the difficulties arising from the Protocol be addressed by politics. To date, politics has failed to rid us of this treacherous agreement, protests and pleas for change have been ignored. Peaceful, practical action is now required.
Prime Minister Boris Johnston, in his forward to the command paper ‘Northern Ireland Protocol – The Way Forward’ issued yesterday, states: ‘Some have begun to fear – wrongly – a growing separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK’. With respect Prime Minister, that has not been our experience.
The principle of consent may be enshrined in the Belfast Agreement, but the practical reality for Unionists today is that we are being forced economically to re-orientate to the Republic of Ireland; we face laws enforced on Northern Ireland which are made by foreign powers, and the many aspects and benefits of being British are being denied to citizens in this part of the United Kingdom. Failing to recognise the reality of the problem by one who presents himself as a stanch supporter of the Union is part of the problem.
The Command Paper articulates many of the arguments Unionism has made and in places even shows empathy with our views. It is strong on negotiations and aspirational achievements, it talks of hope, gaining the prize and a bright future, but little of the consequences if yet another round of negotiations come to nothing.
There is no sign that the EU, or in particular the Republic of Ireland, will respond to reasoned arguments. In fact, some of the utterances from the Republic’s politicians have shown that there is no capacity or willingness to recognise the concerns of Unionists. The invoking of Article 16, whilst welcome, will not in itself solve the core issues, it will only kick the problem down the road.
The Orange Institution will, as a matter of urgency, be meeting Unionist political leaders to hear what they propose if the initiatives outlined by the Government in their ‘Way Forward’ document fail. Unionists cannot stand by and see our birth right eroded; it cannot be business as usual while the protocol remains. We will seek to work alongside all fellow Unionists to ascertain what practical strategic pressure can be applied to show the EU that as long as the Protocol remains there will be consequences.
Following further consultation with our membership, an emergency meeting of Grand Lodge will be called in the coming weeks to endorse any agreed action by the Unionist community.
Like our forefathers we will not be found wanting when the Union needs defended.
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