Loyalists opposed to Brexit’s Irish trade Protocol have put up threatening posters bearing the image of infamous sectarian serial killer Billy Wright.
Posters have appeared in Dungannon, County Tyrone denouncing the ‘Irish Sea Border’ with the message ‘Billy was Wright’.
As the leader of the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force, the man known as ‘King Rat’ was believed to have been responsible for the sectarian murder of dozens of Catholics in the Mid Ulster area during the conflict.
Unionist opposition to the Protocol has continued despite efforts to explain the benefits of the measures, which allow the north of Ireland to uniquely access both the British and European Union markets.
The Protocol has already increased trade between both parts of Ireland by 1.3 billion euro, a huge economic boost for employment and prosperity at a time when the British economy is suffering from Brexit-induced shortages and disruption.
Imports from the north to the south have risen by 77 per cent since the start of the year, while the value of trade in the other direction has risen by 43 per cent, according to official statistics.
However, unionist politicians are still refusing to embrace the special status won for the North in the Brexit negotiations.
The Stormont Minister for the Economy, Gordon Lyons of the DUP, insisted Britain remains the North’s most important market.
“The protocol creates a barrier and is clearly diverting trade,” he said.
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said buyers were looking to the North of Ireland to achieve continuity of supply post-Brexit.
“What is surprising us, and probably most people, is the quantum of that change. There’s basically nearly €800 million worth of additional sales of northern Irish goods into [the south of] Ireland in the first six months of this year, which is enormous,” he said.
“It proves that market access is as critical for trade as anything else and it also shows that the protocol does provide opportunities for northern Irish producers.”
The SDLP’s Brexit spokesperson, South Belfast Assembly member Matthew O’Toole, said the statistics show that exporters in the Six Counties are benefitting from their unique position under the protocol.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Caoimhe Archibald said a strategy is needed to take greater advantage of the North’s continued access to the EU single market to attract investment and create jobs.
“The DUP and the British government need to face the realities of the Brexit they negotiated and agreed, they need listen to businesses, to the manufacturers, farmers and retailers who are telling us all that they want the Protocol to work and find permanent solutions to issues over the next number of weeks,” she said.
And in an event as part of Derry’s Gasyard Féile, former leader of the British Labour Partyy Jeremy Corbyn said the issues raised by Brexit had helped the island of Ireland “become a stronger, self-looking economic entity than it was before” .
Mr Corbyn, who narrowly missed out on becoming Prime Minister in 2017, also said he has always been fascinated by Irish history.
“I’m fascinated by the brutality of the treatment of the Irish people going back to the English occupation, going back to Cromwell and what he did at the end of the English civil war when he tried to march those who fought against the English crown in order to establish a colony in Ireland, so he was practising his own imperialism in what he did.
“And, of course, the horrors of the famine - the Great Hunger - which was later analysed for what it really is. It was an act of horror against the Irish people. Ireland, at the same time as many people were being starved to death, was actually exporting food at the same time,” he remarked.
Mr Corbyn said this history has to be learned ‘over and over again’.