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Unionist fury over Protocol 'puts NI in a dangerous place'


Concerns: Brandon Lewis has said unionist anger over the Brexit deal is deeply worrying

Concerns: Brandon Lewis has said unionist anger over the Brexit deal is deeply worrying

Concerns: Brandon Lewis has said unionist anger over the Brexit deal is deeply worrying

Unionist anger over the Brexit deal could leave Northern Ireland 'in quite a dangerous place', the Secretary of State has warned.

Brandon Lewis said the extent of unease meant that grace periods had to be extended.

Speaking to RTE, he said: "If the unionist community feel that the Protocol is breaching the Good Friday Agreement and moving away from the spirit of it, then we're in quite a dangerous place in terms of stability of not just the Executive but the north-south institutions."

Earlier this month the Loyalist Communities Council, a group which includes representatives of loyalist paramilitaries, said it was temporarily withdrawing support for the 1998 peace deal.

Mr Lewis said: "I don't agree with that, I think it would be a mistake, but it does underline the sense of tension. We have to recognise there is that tension there."

The protocol - the mechanism that avoids a land border in Ireland - sees Northern Ireland remain in the EU single market for goods.

But it has led to a de-facto sea border with GB, triggering unionist anger.

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During a visit to Northern Ireland last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to address their concerns.

In a sign of the growing tension, graffiti listing the full home addresses of Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney appeared in east Belfast this week.

Mr Varadkar's name and address were daubed beside a loyalist mural depicting two gunmen and the words: "The prevention of the erosion of our identity is now our priority. East Belfast Battalion."

Previously, Cabinet minister Michael Gove's name and address was painted on a wall in the Sandy Row area, alongside the message "We don't forget, we don't forgive".

In a separate development yesterday, Mr Lewis suggested funding will be opened up to support a Troubles' pension scheme.

In a series of tweets, Mr Lewis said he had been "consistent" in his support for the scheme, before adding that the Executive is "well-funded" through Northern Ireland's block grant.

He went on to state that he had taken the "exceptional" approach to unlock new funding as part of the New Decade, New Approach deal which restored power-sharing at Stormont in early 2020.

Belfast and London have been at loggerheads over who should meet the cost of the Troubles Permanent Disablement Scheme.

It was passed at Westminster when devolved government at Stormont was not functioning, and Northern Ireland parties argue that the Government should therefore pay for it.

Mr Lewis has previously said the estimated £800m cost of the scheme must be funded by Stormont.

The Northern Ireland Office said Mr Lewis was putting a "high priority" on getting the scheme up and running and called on the Executive to "make progress".

They said "flexibility" around access to NDNA funds "will substantially reduce the costs in those years where costs are more significant, meaning there is nothing now standing in the way of the Executive delivering the scheme as set out in legislation".

But Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the funding being suggested was not additional money.

He added: "This is not a constructive approach to finding a resolution for victims."

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