Belfast Telegraph

UVF watching Brexit developments 'very closely', warns Jamie Bryson

Jamie Bryson
Jamie Bryson

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson has said that he believes the UVF will be monitoring Brexit developments "very closely".

Mr Bryson was speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show on Friday morning.

The loyalist blogger was appearing on the show to discuss Belfast City Council's proposals to remove paramilitary flags from the city.

Councillors met on Friday morning to discuss the issue after the local authority voted to take a case against Stormont's Department for Infrastructure over its refusal to remove paramilitary flags from its property.

However, no legal action was taken and the matter was referred to the council's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee for further discussion.

As the conversation moved on Mr Bryson warned that there was anger among the unionist and loyalist community over Brexit and said he believed that any deal that weakens the position of Northern Ireland in the UK would lead to mass protests and potentially violence.

However, PUP councillor Dr John Kyle said while there are concerns around Brexit in the community, he did not recognise the strength of feeling described by the former flag protester.

Mr Bryson was speaking after speculation the DUP are ready to accept a specific Northern Ireland-only solution to the issues holding up a Brexit deal.

He said that unionists would strongly resist anything that weakened Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom.

"A backstop and a deal which ties Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland and cuts us adrift from the rest of the UK does weaken the constitutional position, the union is no longer safe," Mr Bryson said.

Jamie Bryson at a flag protest outside Belfast City Hall
Jamie Bryson at a flag protest outside Belfast City Hall

"Everything that the unionists and loyalists support, the peace process, the Belfast Agreement is built upon the union is safe and the union is secure.

"If we are cut adrift from the UK into an economic united Ireland the union is no longer safe."

Mr Bryson gave his view on what would happen if a Brexit deal was agreed which "put the union at risk".

"I think the people would take to the streets, hopefully in peaceful and law-abiding protests, but we all live in the real world and quite often those protests can spill over and I think once that genie gets out of the bottle it will be difficult to put it back in," he said. 

"I would presume that the UVF will be watching very closely what is going on at this point in time and I would say that they will be watching for anything that weakens the union and the constitutional position.

"Naturally they will be watching the developments because as it goes many people, probably, within a leadership position in the UVF who will be working very hard not to let that anger spill over amongst younger people and there's a lot of young angry people."

PUP councillor Dr John Kyle
PUP councillor Dr John Kyle

Mr Bryson stressed that he is not a member of the UVF and does not speak for the organisation.

"I would be advocating peaceful and lawful resistance obviously," he said.

Host Stephen Nolan put to Mr Bryson that he could tell the UVF that violence was not wanted in Northern Ireland.

"I don't think any unionist or loyalist has indicated any desire that they want to engage in violence," he said.

"I'm offering an analysis of what I believe may likely happen."

"It's due to the fact of older, wiser experienced heads within leadership positions in the likes of the UVF who are saying to young people 'that is not the way you want to go, you don't want to experience what we had to experience'.

"I don't think it's fair to say there's anybody in the UVF, or any loyalist organisation from what I know, that is spoiling for a fight. What I am saying is this, if the constitutional position of Northern Ireland was weakened that would put us in a very difficult position."

Mr Bryson said that the threat of dissident republican violence had been used by nationalists and republicans in the media across Ireland "to try and gain political leverage to have a backstop, special status or alternative arrangements imposed on Northern Ireland".

"I am sure there's many loyalists will sit and look at that and say 'well if it's good enough for them to threaten violence for three years to get a backstop imposed, well then surely it would be logical to think it's good enough for the loyalist community to threaten violence to ensure the backstop is not imposed," he said.

PUP councillor Dr John Kyle said he did not recognise the angry feelings Mr Bryson has described within the unionist and loyalist community.

"You talk about anger, violence and powderkegs. Certainly it's not what I'm detecting," the Belfast councillor said.

"I think there is real concern around Brexit, I think folks are very concerned. I think there is concern around the talk about border polls, I think it unsettles people.

"We are in an instable situation and I think it does call for people to be wise, measured in what they say and should be working diligently to try and achieve some sort of deal.

"I don't hear anyone talking about violence and I don't hear a lot of anger, but these are not good days and there are real problems."

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