Thousands of Protestant unionists took part on Monday July 12 in the traditional Orange marches in Northern Ireland to mark their attachment to the place of the British province within the United Kingdom, in the midst of the tensions caused by Brexit.
These parades commemorate the victory of the Protestant King William III of Orange-Nassau over his Catholic rival Jacques II in 1690. Pandemic obliges, they were held in reduced format this year, with smaller marches organized in several places, after having been canceled in 2020.
In Belfast, hundreds of musicians and members of the Orange Order fraternal society marched past a crowd waving the British flag, the Union Jack.
‘Isolated’ and ‘abandoned’
In a climate of tension over Brexit, participants said they felt ‘isolated’ and ‘abandoned’ by the customs provisions specific to Northern Ireland decided in the context of the divorce between the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU).
‘The Unionists are a little confused, they are a little angry (…) at what they see as the betrayal of the English government and (of the British Prime Minister) Boris Johnson in particular, told AFP a participant, Bobby Rainey. ‘We feel completely isolated and the UK government, Europe and the Republic of Ireland are all plotting against us,’ said another, Fraser Agnew.
Designed to avoid a border between the British province and Ireland, a member of the EU, which would risk undermining the peace, the Northern Irish Protocol de facto keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market and customs union . The Unionists see in it the creation of a border in the open sea separating Great Britain and the British province, and militate for the abandonment of the protocol. ‘North Belfast says no to border in the Irish Sea,’ read one banner.
The marches, however, did not give rise on Monday afternoon to the excesses that were feared after violence in April against a background of grumbling about this text.
London and Brussels recently reached an agreement allowing Britain to continue for another three months, until September 30, to ship chilled meat to the province, which would not normally have been possible.
On Thursday, the British government, promising to uphold the ‘sacredness’ of its internal market, said it would present its approach to breaking the deadlock with the EU within two weeks.