- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Unionists will fight against the Irish Sea border “every single day” if the DUP strikes a deal to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly with the Government, a high-profile loyalist activist has warned.
Jamie Bryson said Sir Jeffrey Donaldson would be toppled as DUP leader if he ended the almost two year boycott of Stormont over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Mr Bryson, who is well known for his ruthlessness on social media and his pull with grassroots unionists and loyalists, said: “Unionism would split very badly.
“There will be a significant number of unionists, myself included, that will continue to fight every single day, and will make life as difficult as possible for Jeffrey Donaldson.
“I would most certainly be tempted to stand in a constituency against a high-profile protocol implementer,” he added.
The DUP walked out of power-sharing over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which prevented a hard land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, in February 2022.
The treaty, which introduced border checks between the region and Britain, was superseded by February’s Windsor framework, a move that was supported by a majority of Northern Ireland’s political parties.
But Sir Jeffrey said the deal to reduce border checks with Brussels, which Mr Bryson brands a Trojan Horse for an “economic united Ireland”, did not guarantee Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
The Government has begun negotiations to convince a deeply divided DUP to get back to Stormont.
“The deal will be thrown back in their face. We will continue to chip and chip away at it [...] it’ll be a battle a day,” Mr Bryson, 34, said amid growing expectation a deal is close.
The DUP is fearful of the influence Mr Bryson wields with the grassroots.
Sinn Fein won the Assembly election in 2022 for the first time, toppling the DUP amid predictions of a referendum on Irish unity within the decade.
But the former political wing of the IRA can’t take the position of First Minister because of the boycott of Stormont, which is run on a mandatory coalition between the largest unionist and nationalist party.
“Unionism and loyalism need to get on the battlefield,” Mr Bryson said, while stressing his opposition to violence and terrorism.
A scathingly articulate campaigner with legal training, Mr Bryson makes no bones about his willingness to work with former loyalist paramilitaries, provided they were now committed to peace.
Mr Bryson, who claimed Sir Jeffrey has “adopted our arguments” and “entered our territory”, is one of those credited with the idea of the boycott, which has delayed devolved government action on the NHS and cost of living crisis.
‘Loyalism is used as a smear’
The DUP was rewarded at the polls, despite the distaste some middle class unionists have for Mr Bryson because of the stereotype that loyalists are working class, uneducated and involved in crime.
“I entirely oppose all forms of criminality. You cannot be a loyalist and a drug dealer,” he said. “Loyalism is used as a smear. They can’t understand loyalists who are interested in law, interested in media and writing articles for newspapers.
“I am on the hard line of unionism, I don’t pretend anything otherwise. We are meant to be the Praetorian guard to put the brakes on the DUP,” he added, predicting anti-border marches would resume if a deal was done.
“The only weapon that unionism has is to say that if you truly want peace and power sharing in Northern Ireland, then you’ve got to face up to the reality of the situation that the Protocol has to go.”
Sir Jeffrey revealed he had been threatened for trying to find a deal but vowed not to be deflected or intimidated. Mr Bryson condemned the threats, which have been reported to the police, in public and in private to the DUP leader.
The Government offer includes a pledge to screen new UK law to ensure it doesn’t increase trade frictions with Northern Ireland, which continues to follow EU rules as part of the Windsor Framework.
Brexiteer Tory MPs fear this will tie Britain to Brussels’ regulations and Kemi Badenoch vowed to raise the issue with Mr Sunak.
As well as £3.3 billion of funding for Stormont and legislation to guarantee Northern Ireland’s place in the UK, the deal includes an offer to rename the Windsor framework’s Green Lane, the “UK Internal Market Lane”.
Mr Bryson said: “There’s going to be some patriotic rebrand of the Irish border which is in fact insulting to unionists and it’s going to infuriate people in Northern Ireland.
“What price will unionism pay if it goes back now and says it will implement something we all agree dismantles the Union? What is the point of unionism if it’s going to inflict such harm upon itself?”