Future of Union has never been more ‘perilous’, TUV leader Jim Allister claims

TUV leader Jim Allister speaking at his party's manifesto launch at Dunsilly Hotel in Co Antrim
-Credit: (Image: David Young/PA Wire)

The future of the United Kingdom has never been in more peril due to the “damage” caused by post-Brexit trade barriers, the leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party has warned.

At the launch of the TUV manifesto, Jim Allister heavily criticised his unionist rivals, the DUP, for failing to remove the so-called Irish sea border that has created checks and restrictions on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Mr Allister was joined at the event by Reform UK deputy leader Ben Habib and both men were keen to downplay the recent move by Reform leader Nigel Farage to personally endorse two DUP election candidates, despite his party having an official electoral alliance with the TUV in Northern Ireland.

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The TUV leader dismissed the furore as a “media story” that he insisted was not preoccupying voters in his own North Antrim constituency, where he is running on a joint TUV-Reform UK platform, even though Mr Farage has personally backed the DUP candidate in that area, Ian Paisley.

Launching his party’s Restore the Union manifesto at a hotel in Co Antrim, Mr Allister accused the DUP of misleading unionist voters in February by dropping its two-year blockade of Stormont devolution and endorsing a UK Government deal that claimed to have dramatically reduced the Brexit red tape on internal UK trade.

He said the Safeguarding the Union command paper had not changed “one word” of contentious UK/EU agreements that had created the Irish Sea barriers – namely the Northern Ireland Protocol, and its successor, the Windsor Framework.

Reform UK deputy leader Ben Habib (on the bench, right) and TUV leader Jim Allister (on the bench centre) with parliamentary election candidates at the TUV manifesto launch at Dunsilly Hotel in Co Antrim
Reform UK deputy leader Ben Habib (on the bench, right) and TUV leader Jim Allister (on the bench centre) with parliamentary election candidates at the TUV manifesto launch at Dunsilly Hotel in Co Antrim -Credit:David Young/PA Wire

Mr Allister branded the February deal the “greatest contrivance of lies and deception ever attempted on the unionist people”.

“It changed not one word of the protocol, yet was brazenly sold as having demolished the Irish Sea border, having neutered EU law, restored our place within the United Kingdom,” he said.

The TUV leader claimed the DUP has since “flip-flopped” and performed a “screeching U-turn” on its previous endorsement of the command paper.

“In this election, trust is rightly the defining issue for many,” he said.

“Those who in February falsely claimed that the Irish sea border was gone, that EU law was thwarted, that our place had been restored in the United Kingdom do not deserve your votes.

“That is why I am delighted to be able to offer in this election the contrasting and unshakable unionism of TUV/Reform UK.

“It’s time to build back what has been lost. It’s time to build back what has been squandered by those who previously were entrusted to deliver but those who failed miserably and left unionism in a much worse position than they found it.

“The DUP stewardship of the Union has not just been woeful, it has been damaging, and our Union has never been in a more perilous state than it is today.

“The challenge of building back is daunting. There is no doubt about that. But with truth on our side and with the help of men of principle, like Ben Habib, we will not falter. That’s our pledge to the people of Northern Ireland.”

The TUV contends that the key to removing the NI Protocol/Windsor Framework is the introduction of a “mutual recognition” system whereby the EU and UK agree to check goods entering the other’s jurisdiction.

At the launch event, Mr Allister also dismissed the suggestion his party could contribute to a reduction in the overall number of unionist MPs returning to Westminster if the pro-Union vote is significantly split and the DUP fails to retain one or more seats as a result.

He said his party was ensuring the pro-Union vote could be maximised.

The TUV, which did not run in the 2019 General Election, formed an electoral alliance with Reform UK ahead of July’s poll and is standing in 14 constituencies in Northern Ireland. While it will only be the TUV name on the ballot paper on July 4, the parties are promoting a joint TUV/Reform UK message on the campaign trail.

However, that arrangement was thrown into doubt when Mr Farage declared his personal endorsement for DUP candidates Mr Paisley in North Antrim and Sammy Wilson in East Antrim.

Despite this, the TUV and Reform UK have insisted their electoral alliance remains in place.

Both Mr Allister and Mr Habib were quizzed about the controversy as they fielded media questions at the Dunsilly Hotel on Friday morning.

“It may be a media story about what politician endorses what politician, but the real endorsement is the endorsement of the people,” said Mr Allister.

“And that is where the sovereignty of the people lies. And they will make that choice. And they will not be voting for Nigel Farage (in North Antrim), they will be voting either for me or for Ian Paisley, the candidate of a party that told them the Irish Sea border was gone, when it wasn’t, and they then think people should trust them, when patently they shouldn’t.”

Mr Habib was asked whether Mr Farage regretted his decision.

“I think regret is not an emotion that Nigel is familiar with,” he replied.

Mr Habib went on to insist that his leader’s endorsement of the two DUP candidates did not undermine the TUV/Reform UK partnership.

“That doesn’t in any way diminish or detract from the complete commitment that Reform UK has to the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and therefore to the only political party in Northern Ireland with which we could possibly be allied,” he added.

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