The former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib has accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of missing a “parallel” between the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The ardent critic of the post-Brexit trading arrangements wrote the letter addressed to unionists entitled “Update on defending the Union of the UK, Ending the Northern Ireland Protocol”.
In the piece, Mr Habib described there being a “parallel between Ukraine and Northern Ireland”, claiming the only difference was “we bowed to the EU without a single shot fired”.
Within the online letter, Mr Habib also compared Vladimir Putin’s use of exercising “influence and control over their targets” to that of the EU “through the protocol”.
The comments from Mr Habib sparked criticism online, including from Steve Peers, Professor in the School of Law at the University of Essex, who wrote: “A treaty which both parties freely entered into (and which Mr Habib voted for) is not remotely comparable to a murderous invasion.”
Mr Habib made the remarks amid briefing from Downing Street suggesting Boris Johnson is unlikely to trigger Article 16 of the protocol before the Stormont election in May as a result of the Ukraine conflict.
Last week the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported sources within the government claiming the growing conflict in Ukraine has reduced the appetite for Downing Street to engage in a political row with the EU and the issue of the protocol may go on the back burner.
The newspaper quoted a Number 10 official who claimed triggering article 16 could still not be ruled out before May’s Stormont poll, but a source said it was “unlikely” as a result of a lack of “ministerial capacity”.
Mr Habib claimed the Prime Minister was “watching events from a distance and instituting a few sanctions”, which was no excuse for failing to act.
“The parallel between Ukraine and Northern Ireland seems to be lost on Mr Johnson,” the ex-MEP for Nigel Farage’s former party has written,” Mr Habib wrote.
“Admittedly, the EU has not amassed a military force to get its way but its aim with the United Kingdom is the same as Putin’s with Ukraine.
“Both actors wish to exercise influence and control over their targets. They wish to neuter their independence.
“Putin’s approach is through military might. The EU’s approach has been through the Protocol.
“If Russia prevails it will settle new laws and regulations on Ukraine. It will oversee those laws to ensure they are enforced. It will require Ukraine to align itself with Russia.
“This is precisely what the EU has achieved in the United Kingdom via the Northern Ireland Protocol. The only difference is we bowed to the EU without a single shot being fired.”
The post-Brexit trading arrangements prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland but are deeply unpopular with unionist politicians because they introduced new trade barriers in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Negotiations with the UK and European Union have continued over the past few months, however while the EU has given concessions on its operation, notably to ease the flow of medicines, these have not satisfied many who oppose it.
Unionists in Northern Ireland continue to push for the UK Government to scrap the protocol, with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson previously hinting that it may be “difficult” for his party to re-enter Stormont after an election if the protocol is still in place.