Outrage over anti-Brexit M1 protest plan
Fears trade will be hit on one of shops' busiest days
One of the year's busiest shopping days looks set to be hit by anti-Brexit protesters disrupting traffic on the Dublin-Belfast motorway.
Christmas shoppers flocking over the border from the Republic to take advantage of the weak pound in Newry and Belfast could end up frustrated in lengthy traffic jams after Border Communities Against Brexit said it plans to hold a 'go slow' protest on Saturday at junction 20 on the M1, near Jonesborough. Senior business and political figures last night slammed the plan, claiming the proposed action would hit pre-Christmas trade.
The protest group says its action is "to show our determination to remain within the customs union and single market".
Wilfred Mitchell of the Federation of Small Business slammed the plan, saying that the 'go slow' was a "gesture which would contribute nothing". He said: "Many people are concerned about the potential impact of Brexit, including the thousands of FSB members who run businesses right across Northern Ireland, who want to see continued access to markets and to skills.
"However, this planned protest is a gesture that will contribute nothing, but risks damaging trade in one of the crucial pre-Christmas weekends. There are more effective ways of highlighting the potential challenges of Brexit, and drawing the attention of negotiators to the concerns."
South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells also criticised the protest.
"Saturday is one of the most important shopping days of the year for Newry," he said.
"This protest is being staged by people who say they are concerned about damage to cross-border trade, but that's exactly what this protest itself will do - damage trade."
Mr Wells said he had been invited to the protest.
"But I'll certainly not be going," he told the Belfast Telegraph last night.
Newry, Mourne and Down councillor David Taylor, whose constituency touches the border near where the protest is to take place, said he felt the plan was ill-advised.
"While I respect anyone's entitlement to protest, I do fear there are those within society who are displaying contempt and total disregard for the democratic vote taken in respect of the UK's decision to leave the European Union," the Slieve Gullion UUP representative said.
"I believe the protest organised by Border Communities Against Brexit is ill-advised.
"I would ask them to give consideration to the impact their protest will have on businesses located on both sides of the border, particularly as we approach the Christmas period - which serves as the most crucial time of the year for traders, in terms of maximising their retail potential."
On the anti-Brexit group's Facebook page last night, 155 people had indicated they planned to attend the M1 protest on Saturday.