Citing Brexit as their reason, loyalist paramilitaries, including outlawed groups, pull back support for Northern Ireland's 1998 peace deal that ended violence between groups fighting for a united Ireland and those opting to stay with the UK.
Northern Irish loyalist paramilitary organisations has told British 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".
In the letter they said they would continue to respect the Belfast Agreement until the protocol was amended to ensure "unfettered access for goods, services, and citizens throughout the United Kingdom."
"If you or the EU is not prepared to honour the entirety of the agreement then you will be responsible for the permanent destruction of the agreement," they warned in the letter, written by David Campbell, chairman of the Loyalist Communities Council.
Good Friday Agreement
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.
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 underestimate the strength of feeling on this issue right across the unionist family," the letter said.
Johnson under pressure
Such a stark warning – albeit with promises not to trigger violence immediately – dramatically increases the pressure on Johnson, his Irish counterpart Micheal 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 January 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 US trade deal.
Police Service of Northern Ireland Constable Simon Byrne has warned of growing discontent among unionists.