The leaders of the four largest unionist parties in the North have released a joint declaration reaffirming their opposition to the Northern Ireland protocol.
The statement, released on Tuesday, was signed by Jeffrey Donaldson of the Democratic Unionist Party, Doug Beattie of the Ulster Unionist Party, Jim Allister of Traditional Unionist Voice and Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party.
"We, the undersigned unionist political leaders, affirm our opposition to the Northern Ireland protocol, its mechanisms and structures and reaffirm our unalterable position that the protocol must be rejected and replaced by arrangements which fully respect Northern Ireland's position as a constituent and integral part of the United Kingdom, " the joint declaration reads.
Unionists in Northern Ireland are opposed to the protocol - the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement which avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea - because they argue it damages Northern Ireland's economic and constitutional position within the United Kingdom.
United in opposing
It is the first time the leaders of the unionist parties have issued such a joint declaration, which is intended to emphasise that unionism is united in opposing the protocol.
In a joint video message accompanying the declaration, the party leaders appear together at Stormont to emphasise their opposition to the protocol.
“Unionism stands united in opposing the protocol,” Mr Donaldson said. “The Irish Sea border must go...It undermines the union and is costing Northern Ireland £850 million per year. It’s time for the [BRITISH] government to act.”
Mr Beattie added: "The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement creates stability here in Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Party support that Belfast Agreement. The protocol undermines the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Therefore we cannot support that."
Mr Allister said the “removal of the protocol is the imperative for anyone who cherishes our rightful place within the United Kingdom and who wishes to oppose the all-Ireland that the protocol is seeking to design.
“Now is the time for all unionists to stand strong and therefore I welcome this declaration of unalterable opposition to this iniquitous protocol,” he said.
Mr Hutchinson said: “Unionism stands united today against the protocol...The British government tore up the Act of Union and also the Belfast Agreement. In doing this they diluted our Britishness.
“Today we stand strong against the protocol and we call on the British government to remove the protocol.”
Earlier this month, Mr Donaldson threatened that his party would withdraw from the Stormont Executive “within weeks” unless substantial changes were made to the protocol.
Writing jointly in this newspaper on Monday, Mr Donaldson and Mr Allister claimed the guarantees in the Belfast Agreement had been “ripped up” by the protocol, which had “introduced seismic changes in the constitutional position of Northern Ireland”.
In the Assembly on Tuesday, SDLP MLA Matthew O’Toole criticised the “successful reality distortion project” which claims the protocol is the only consequence of Brexit in order to “distract” from its wider effects.
“The reality distortion here ... says that the primary motivating concern of everybody on the streets of Northern Ireland is the protocol and getting rid of it and not, for example, ensuring that we don’t have fuel shortages like we have in England, he said. “Yes, I want to see solutions to movement of goods under the protocol but I want to see it done practically.”