EU’s handling of Northern Ireland like Putin annexing Crimea, claims Wilson

The DUP MP said Boris Johnson should oppose the EU’s stance on Northern Ireland as much he is opposing the Russian president’s tactics in Ukraine.

18 February 2022

A DUP MP has compared the EU’s handling of Northern Ireland in the Brexit process to Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

Sammy Wilson accused Brussels of annexing the region through the Irish Sea trading arrangements required under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Wilson said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson should oppose the EU’s stance on Northern Ireland as much he is opposing the Russian president’s tactics in Ukraine.

Russia annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine in 2014 and has amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukraine border in recent weeks amid international concerns that Mr Putin is poised to launch a full-scale military invasion.

East Antrim MP Mr Wilson addressed a loyalist demonstration against the protocol in Markethill, Co Armagh, on Friday evening.

Despite the blizzard conditions, people from across Northern Ireland attended the rally, with dozens of bands taking part.

A loyalist demonstration against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Markethill, Co Armagh
A loyalist demonstration against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Markethill, Co Armagh (Cate McCurry/PA)

“The Irish Sea border imposes the will of nationalists on unionists,” Mr Wilson said.

“It trashes the principle of cross-community consent, undermines the Acts of Union and breaches the constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland.

“Through the Northern Ireland Protocol, the EU in effect is annexing Northern Ireland just as much as President Putin has already annexed part of Ukraine and is seeking to undermine that country’s independence further.”

The protocol has created new economic barriers on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Sammy Wilson (left) and TUV leader Jim Allister (right) at the rally (Cate McCurry/PA)

Agreed by the UK and EU to ensure no hardening of the Irish land border post-Brexit, it has instead moved regulatory and customs checks to the Irish Sea, with Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market for goods. The region also applies the EU customs code at its ports.

Unionists and loyalists claim the arrangements have undermined the sovereignty of the UK, but a majority of Assembly members at Stormont support the protocol, claiming it offers Northern Ireland a degree of protection from negative economic consequences of Brexit.

The EU and UK continue to negotiate in a bid to agree a way to reduce the bureaucracy associated with the protocol.

There has been increased focus on whether any deal would retain the element of the protocol that allows Northern Ireland traders to sell freely within the UK internal market and the EU single market – the so-called “best of both worlds” dual market access.

Mr Wilson added: “Boris Johnson has rightly led the campaign to stop Putin undermining the democratic wishes of the people of Ukraine, and he has an even greater responsibility as the PM of the UK to prevent the annexation of Northern Ireland by Brussels by revoking the NI Protocol.

“Make no doubt about it, whilst the protocol damages the economy of Northern Ireland, even more fundamentally it divides us from the country to which we belong, it undermines democracy and imposes foreign rules in this part of the UK.”

Jim Allister
Jim Allister (Cate McCurry/PA)

Mr Wilson also called for co-operation between unionists in the campaign against the protocol.

His remarks came after Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister raised concerns that the DUP was softening its line on the protocol and was willing to accept arrangements that still treated Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK.

Mr Wilson said: “The threat is so grave it leaves no room for unionists to point-score against each other, to undermine the morale of the unionist population by divisive tactics and words, and it would be the worst disservice any unionist politician could do to make political capital out of this constitutional danger.

“The interests of our cause will not be served by pointing the finger at each other. This will simply let the rigorous implementers off the hook. We will not remove the border within our own country by putting up barricades within the unionist family.”

Mr Allister also addressed the rally, saying the protocol issue cannot be “fudged”.

“Foreign sovereignty over any part of the UK is incompatible with being an integral part of that kingdom,” he said.

“Thus, any ‘landing ground’ that leaves us annexed into the EU’s single market is not ‘the best of both worlds’, but keeps us firmly in the EU’s world, with Great Britain designated as a ‘third country’, while we are subjected to European Union laws and jurisdiction. Such is a non-starter.

“Any woolly thinking that you can be part of the EU single market and subject to its customs code while at the same time not be subject to its sovereignty is a dangerous delusion.

“Thus, any acceptable way forward requires the EU to give up its ill-gotten sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

“There can be no compromise on this constitutional imperative. This is not a matter to fudge or equivocate over and those who do forfeit the right to expect transfers from anti-protocol unionists (in the Assembly election).”

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