DUP’s Sammy Wilson calls for unionists to stick together after being booed at anti-protocol rally

A DUP MP booed and jeered at an anti-protocol rally has said unionists must stick together – as he faced accusations of making “unwarranted personal attacks” on a fellow unionist.

ammy Wilson was speaking after he was repeatedly interrupted as he attempted to deliver a speech at the event in Markethill, Co Armagh, on Friday night.

During his address, Mr Wilson compared the EU handling of Northern Ireland in the Brexit process to Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

However, his comments were often drowned out as angry crowd members accused his party of botching the Brexit process, with TUV leader Jim Allister having to intervene on his behalf at one point.

Today, Mr Wilson hit out at those who he said were “completely undermining the strong message the organizers wanted to send out” – claiming their boos would only “hearten Brussels”.

He also accused Mr Allister of “whipping up an anti-DUP sentiment” – prompting the TUV leader to hit back at what he branded “unwarranted personal attacks”.

The row came the day after thousands of people attended the rally in blizzard conditions, with dozens of bands taking part.

However, Mr Wilson was booed as he tried to address the crowd from the platform, with Mr Allister intervening and appealing to people to hear him out.

Mr Allister told the crowd: “I do appeal to you to listen to the speeches. You’ll get your opportunity at the polls to express yourself, but tonight it’s important that we listen to all unionist voices.”

Mr Wilson thanked Mr Allister and added: “We are on the same side. Jim and I have fought together against the protocol. We have fought against the imposition of the protocol.”

But in a statement released by the DUP press office on Saturday, Mr Wilson accused the TUV leader of “whipping up an anti-DUP sentiment in a blatant act of electioneering”.

Mr Wilson said he had walked the parade route before and after the speeches, adding that “people were craving unionist unity in opposition to the protocol”.

He said there had been backing for the DUP’s decision earlier this month to remove Paul Givan as First Minister until the Irish Sea Border is removed.

However, he said the headlines around “unionist disunity” following the rally “only serves the purposes of our political opponents who want to portray unionist opposition to the protocol as dysfunctional and divided.”

He added: “Some in loyalism seem intent on manufacturing disunity where none exists. They tried and failed in Dromore. They succeeded in Markethill, thus completely undermining the strong message the organizers wanted to send out.

Whilst Jim Allister appealed for respect, it came after he spent 10 minutes on the platform whipping up an anti-DUP sentiment in a blatant act of electioneering.

Whilst Sir Jeffrey has sought to work with every hue of unionism, whether he always agrees with them or not, to get a united front and common cause against the Protocol, it seems Jim is only interested in using the Protocol to promote his and his party’s narrow electoral interests.

“Unionism is ill-served at this time by such division.”

In response, Mr Allister said: “If Sammy Wilson thinks unwarranted personal attacks on me helps his party’s cause, that is a matter for him and the DUP. How such helps the stance against the Protocol is difficult to discern.

“TUV is not responsible for the public perception of DUP’s protocol stance, especially after foolish talk about ‘the best of both worlds’.

“The public has no problem understanding TUV’s unwavering stand against the Union-dismantling Protocol.”

Mr Allister had raised concerns that the DUP was softening its line on the protocol and was willing to accept arrangements that still treated Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the UK.

In his speech on Friday night, Mr Wilson had stressed the need for unionists to work together to oppose the protocol.

He accused Brussels of annexing the region through the Irish Sea trading arrangements required under the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should oppose the EU’s stance on Northern Ireland as much as he is opposing the Russian president’s tactics in Ukraine.

Russia annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine in 2014 and has amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukraine border in recent weeks amid international concerns that Mr Putin is poised to launch a full-scale military invasion.

“The Irish Sea border imposes the will of nationalists on unionists,” Mr Wilson said.

“It trashes the principle of cross-community consent, undermines the Acts of Union and breaks the constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland.

“Through the Northern Ireland Protocol, the EU in effect is annexing Northern Ireland just as much as President Putin has already annexed part of Ukraine and is seeking to undermine that country’s independence further.”

Mr Allister told the rally the protocol issue cannot be “fudged”.

“Foreign sovereignty over any part of the UK is incompatible with being an integral part of that kingdom,” he said.

“Thus, any ‘landing ground’ that leaves us annexed into the EU single market is not ‘the best of both worlds’, but keeps us firmly in the EU world, with Great Britain designated as a ‘third country’, while we are subjected to European Union laws and jurisdiction.Such is a non-starter.

“Any woolly thinking that you can be part of the EU single market and subject to its customs code while at the same time not be subject to its sovereignty is a dangerous delusion.

“Thus, any acceptable way forward requires the EU to give up its ill-gotten sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

“There can be no compromise on this constitutional imperative. This is not a matter to fudge or equivocate over and those who do forfeit the right to expect transfers from anti-protocol unionists (in the Assembly election).”

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