Amid a hostile reaction by unionist politicians to a draft Brexit deal, one TUV politician has warned that the border through Ireland will be “maintained by the gun”.
Barrie Halliday of TUV (Traditional Unionist Voice) made the apparent threat of loyalist paramilitary violence in response to a draft agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Published earlier this month, it seeks to guarantee that the area around the border will not be remilitarised.
In a video posted to Facebook, the politician and pastor (pictured, left) said “men and women... paid for that line to remain where it is by laying down their lives. It was defended by the gun and will be maintained by the gun. The border in 20 years time will be where it is today.”
His comments are at the extreme end of unionist reaction to the withdrawal agreement, which could see a differential in the regulatory and customs regimen on either side of the Irish Sea. Unionists fear it could become the first crack in a political separation of the north of Ireland away from Britain.
The agreement includes a ‘backstop’ for the Six Counties to retain future access to the EU Customs Union and an assurance that customs and other checks will not be required at the border. An ancillary political declaration, published by Britain and the EU this week, includes a statement of their “determination” to replace this backstop with alternative arrangements.
Nevertheless, the DUP has continued to threaten to collapse Theresa May’s minority government in London, which depends on their support. As part of an escalating response at Westminster this week, the DUP abstention on a number of divisions, forcing the Tories to accept a series of opposition amendments.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds (pictured, right) said that in the coming days and weeks his party “will be tried and tested like never before”. He was speaking at his party’s annual conference, with senior Tories Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond in attendance.
Escalating the party’s rhetoric, he declared it would “require the collective will not just of this party but of all who value and cherish our precious union to stand firm in the face of the inevitable onslaught.”
Mr Dodds said that those who supported the backstop must consider “the effect of the trade barriers and growing divergence that would inevitably emerge - some immediately, most in future years - between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK”.
He vaguely threatened that there would be “consequences” for the British government if it pressed ahead with the withdrawal agreement.
Earlier this week, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said the DUP had got it “catastrophically wrong” by pursuing a hard Brexit and rejecting the withdrawal agreement.
“They’re wrong about the draft agreement,” she said. “It’s not perfect but it is certainly a baseline to protect our economic interests and agreements.
“It’s now very clear right across Ireland, North and South that that key voices from business, agriculture and other sectors are coming out and facing down the very negative politics advanced by the DUP and the Tory Brexiteers.
“Now is the time to ensure that the bottom lines around no hard border, the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and citizens’ rights are met.
“This is vital to protect everybody who lives and works on the island of Ireland.”