Belfast Telegraph

I never called for protests on the street, says Mervyn Gibson

Senior Orangeman Mervyn Gibson has clarified comments about civil disobedience over Brexit
Senior Orangeman Mervyn Gibson has clarified comments about civil disobedience over Brexit
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A senior Orangeman has insisted that his comments about civil disobedience have been misrepresented.

Mervyn Gibson said some form of protest may be needed if Boris Johnson's Brexit deal passes through Parliament.

While he admitted this could include civil disobedience, he rejected any suggestion it should involve illegality or street protests that could lead to violence.

Mr Gibson said that a "considered response" was needed from unionism after the General Election on December 12.

He told this newspaper: "There's a misconception about what I meant by civil disobedience, which is what Martin Luther King did in America with non-violence.

"That seems to have become construed with the flag protest, (but) at no time did I call for people to go on the street.

"We don't know what's going to happen after December 12. Whatever it is, it does not need a knee-jerk reaction but a thought-through strategy from united unionism. On-street protests that lead to violence aren't the way forward.

"It's failed in the past. Too many young lads and girls have gone to jail for nothing.

"Whatever we do needs to be effective to change things, but I can't yet be specific about what civil disobedience meant because Boris Johnson could change his mind about whether we can influence the Brexit legislation.

"I'm against a knee-jerk reaction, street protests and violence.

"I still want some sort of protest against the Brexit deal, but not street protests or violence.

"It could be something like withholding forms or a rates strike, but I can't know what it is until after December 12."

Last night DUP leader Arlene Foster also ruled out support for a campaign of civil disobedience against the Prime Minister's Brexit plans.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme, she was emphatic: "Absolutely not. I very much believe in democracy. I believe in the ballot box.

"I know people are frustrated - and undoubtedly there is frustration within unionism about the prospect of an Irish Sea border, then they should make sure that they send back a team to Westminster that will prevent that from happening.

"We are the largest party from Northern Ireland - we have exerted considerable influence in Westminster.

"What we're asking the people in Northern Ireland to do is to send us back to do that again - and to make sure that we use our influence over there to make sure that we get more for Northern Ireland - but also to stop this deal, so we can deal wit the customs issues, deal with the consent issues and make sure that we get a deal that works for all of the UK, not just parts of it."

The Ulster Unionist Party said yesterday that certain forms of civil disobedience, such as street protests, were unhelpful.

"Lessons must be learned from the past in terms of civil disobedience and street protest," a spokesman added.

"It didn't work in the 1980s to bring an end to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and it didn't work in more recent times regarding the City Hall flag protests."

The spokesman said that while his party was against the Brexit deal, unionists needed to "use brains, not brawn".

"The last thing we need is to see more young people sucked into confrontation and the courts (serving) the agenda of certain elements in the background who would seek to gain credibility and kudos by taking advantage of legitimate fears and concerns. We need cool heads and calm reflection," he added.

Brian Smyth, the Green Party councillor for Belfast, said Mr Gibson should reconsider his position on Brexit.

"Mervyn Gibson voted for Brexit. Instead of talking about civil disobedience, (he should) acknowledge that supporting Leave and the DUP leadership's stance on Brexit has been disastrous for Northern Ireland," Mr Smyth added.

PUP leader Billy Hutchinson told BBC NI's The View programme he was sceptical about what civil disobedience from unionists would achieve. "Who are they going to fight?" Mr Hutchinson asked. "Are they going to fight Boris Johnson? Are the going to fight the British Government? We are British."

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