Protesters urge DUP not to nominate new First Minister until Protocol abandoned

Protesters urge DUP not to nominate new First Minister until Protocol abandoned

The protest took place in in Newtownards, County Down (Brian Lawless/PA)

A rally against the Northern Ireland Protocol has heard calls for the DUP not to nominate a new First Minister until it is abandoned.

Paul Givan remains First Minister following the resignation of Edwin Poots as DUP leader, but could be replaced when a new leader is chosen.

If they refused to nominate a replacement, powersharing would collapse.

People take part in a Loyalist protest in Newtownards, County Down, against the Northern Ireland Protocol (Brian Lawless/PA)

Several hundred people turned out at the Square in Newtownards, Co Down on Friday, for a protest against the Protocol, organised by leading Brexiteers Kate Hoey and ex-MEP Ben Habib.

Leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, Jim Allister, launched a stinging attack on Edwin Poots and called on the DUP to effectively collapse Stormont unless the Protocol is abandoned.

He told the crowd: “The British Government had a choice, are we going to please Sinn Féin or are we going to please the DUP?

“They chose to please IRA Sinn Féin. Why? Because they had the measure of the DUP.

“And it was that spineless, hopeless, pathetic, useless attitude that enabled them to do it.”

He added: “What do we now need to do? What needs to be done in Stormont is the new DUP leader needs to find a backbone, and he needs to resign the First Minister.

“He needs to say to the British Prime Minister, there will be no First Minister so long as there is a Protocol.”

Several hundred people attended the protest (Brian Lawless/PA)

He claimed the Protocol was “designed to partition the United Kingdom” and to “annex” Northern Ireland into the EU.

He said the EU were “preparing us for what they see as the ultimate outcome of Irish unity”, which was greeted with chants of “never” and “over my dead body” from the crowd.

Former Labour MP Kate Hoey said the Protocol is “taking away our British identity” and accused the Government of using Northern Ireland as a “weapon”.

She added: “I’m afraid the wining and dining that goes on in Brussels paid off.

“The EU wanted to punish the United Kingdom for daring to leave their club and cynically used the issue of the Irish border and the Belfast Agreement as the weapon.”

The demonstration saw five protest parades marching towards the town centre in Newtownards.

Hundreds of protesters waved Union flags and held banners saying “Dublin’s Choice: Peace or Protocol?”, which bore an image of Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, as well as “No Irish sea border” and “Enough is enough”.

A protest in Newtownards, County Down, against the Northern Ireland Protocol (Brian Lawless/PA)

Others held signs saying “Prosecutions for the Bobby Storey funeral” and “Chief Constable must resign”, in reference to Covid breaches at a Republican funeral that went unpunished.

Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib told the crowd: “The real villains in this story are the EU and the Irish Government, because they have falsified and misrepresented entirely what the customs border on the island of Ireland would be.

“But I’m afraid that those to whom you have given your allegiance, the Westminster Government, they are the ones who have really forsaken you because they should have stood up to that false narrative.”

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson said Unionist identity was more important than constitutional principles.

He said: “We respect our cherished principle of parliamentary sovereignty. But our fundamental British identity means more to us than any constitutional principle.

Protesters hold banners at the demonstration (Brian Lawless/PA)

“That should come as no surprise, because Parliament sought to subjugate Ulster in 1912, and that’s why Edward Carson raised an army.

“So if it is the choice between respecting the will of Parliament or our Union, then there’s only ever going to be one winner.”

A statement by Ards and North Down Loyalist Collective said: “Our platform of four high-profile speakers will send a clear message that the violence-rewarding, Union-dismantling Protocol must go.

“Baroness Hoey, Jim Allister and Ben Habib are currently leading a High Court challenge against the Irish Sea border, and Jamie Bryson separately took the initial step in bringing High Court proceedings in 2019 which were halted pending the ratification of the Withdrawal Act by Parliament.”

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