Northern Irish loyalist paramilitary groups told UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson they are temporarily withdrawing support for the 1998 peace agreement due to concerns over the Brexit deal, the Belfast Telegraph reported.
An umbrella body representing the outlawed groups said in a letter that the unionist opposition to the Northern Irish Protocol – part of the Brexit divorce deal – should remain “peaceful and democratic”.
Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace deal, known as the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement, largely ended three decades of violence between nationalists fighting for Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland, and loyalists who want it to stay in the United Kingdom.
The paramilitaries including the Ulster Volunteer Force, Ulster Defence Association and Red Hand Commando said they were concerned about the disruption to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland due to the Brexit deal.
“We are concerned about the disruption to trade and commerce between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom that is occurring,” said the letter, written by David Campbell, chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council.
But, they said, their core disagreement was more fundamental: that Britain, Ireland and the European Union had in the Northern Irish Protocol breached their commitments to the 1998 peace deal and the two communities.
“Please do not under-estimate the strength of feeling on this issue right across the unionist family,” the letter said.
Such a stark warning – albeit with promises not to trigger violence immediately – dramatically increases the pressure on Johnson, his Irish counterpart Micheál Martin and the European Union over Brexit.
The loyalist groups abandoned the armed struggle in 1998 and residual violence since the accord has largely been carried out by dissident nationalist groups who opposed the peace deal.
Ever since Brexit proper on Jan. 1, 2020, Northern Ireland has had problems importing a range of goods from Britain – which unionists, or loyalists, says divides up the United Kingdom and so is unacceptable.
The European Union promised legal action on Wednesday after the British government unilaterally extended a grace period for checks on food imports to Northern Ireland, a move Brussels said violated the terms of Britain’s divorce deal.
Joe Biden, while campaigning in the presidential election last year, bluntly warned the United Kingdom that it must honour Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace agreement as it withdrew from the European Union or there would be no separate U.S. trade deal.