Ian Paisley Jr: Westminster Needs to Fix Brexit's Impact on Northern Ireland

DUP MP said Windsor Framework won't stop agri-food businesses from collapsing, and that the differential treatment will impact the public's psyche.
Ian Paisley Jr: Westminster Needs to Fix Brexit's Impact on Northern Ireland
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Ian Paisley speaks to NTD's "British Thought Leaders" programme. (NTD)
Lily Zhou

It's up to ministers in London to fix Northern Ireland's Brexit-related problems before the country can have a functioning devolution government again, said Ian Paisley Jr.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP for North Antrim defended the party's refusal to enter the power-sharing Northern Ireland (NI) Executive, saying the stance was not taken "for spite" but because "we care."

In an interview with NTD's "British Though Leaders" programme about the unique history of NI and its relationship with Great Britain, Mr. Paisley said NI's agri-food businesses "will collapse" under the current Brexit arrangement and the country is also suffering an identity crisis as a result.

Under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian fights among Irish nationalists and pro-UK unionists, the legislative and executive power in Northern Ireland must be shared between the largest unionist party, the DUP, and the largest Irish republican party, Sinn Féin.

The executive collapsed in February 2022 after then-first minister, DUP’s Paul Givan, resigned in protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol, which automatically triggered the removal of Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

The parties later failed to build a new NI Assembly and a new executive after a snap election because the DUP continued to refuse participation unless Westminster fix the protocol's impact on NI, but Mr. Paisley has previously said the new deal still didn't "cut the mustard."

Mr. Paisley is currently the DUP's Westminster spokesman for communities, local government, culture, media, and sports, a member of the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, and formerly the NI Assembly Agriculture Committee chair. His late father Lord Bannside founded the DUP in 1971.

He said in the interview that half of the veterinary medicines in NI are available under EU law and will become illegal by the end of the year.

"Now that affects our ability, therefore, to make the foods that are necessary for the rest of the UK," he said.

"It stops our farm businesses from succeeding. And it then says to our competitors: 'Come to be in the south of Ireland. There's a market of 70 million people. Do you want to take it?' So this is an economic war which we are now in and we have to have this resolved," he said.

"If we don't have our agri-foods, agri-veterinary medicines resolved, Northern Ireland's agri-food business will collapse," he said.

Mr. Paisley went on to say he's dealing with a constituent who "can't bring horticultural products that their family have had for over 80 years from their house in England to their new house in Northern Ireland" because it might contaminate the Republic of Ireland and EU.

Apart from the practical impacts, the differential treatment also has an impact on the psyche of NI residents, making them feel they're "not really British," he said.

"The third issue, therefore, is identity. Much more nebulous," he said.

"We can fix all the friction of trade issues which go on, but fixing the issue of identity where your identity has been given a punch in the chin and you feel that your Britishness has been unsettled, that's much harder, and the government has a real task of work, in my view, to do something to say that was a mistake. You're very much part and parcel, you're an integral part of the United Kingdom," he said.

NI Has Stronger 'Sense of Britishness' Then Other UK Countries

Mr. Paisley said people outside NI don't fully understand what the country has gone through.

"Most people know someone in their family, or neighbour, or friend who perished or was badly injured in The Troubles," he said.

While The Troubles have largely become "ancient history" to the youth, for the older generations, "the memory of that is an immediate memory."

As a result of the troubles, Mr. Paisley said he believes there's "a very strong feeling that Northern Ireland's sense of Britishness is palpably more stronger than in other parts of the UK."

For the unionists in NI, there's still the feeling that "our forefathers have really died for this. This isn't a gift from the English to us, this is ours as of right. We determine that we are British, it is ours, we influence what Britishness is," he said.

Speaking of the Good Friday Agreement, which the DUP has opposed, Mr. Paisley said the deal created a system of government that "doesn't work," but did bring the benefit of stopping the republicans from bombing the unionists.

The DUP's withdrawal from the NI executive last year was the second time that the executive has collapsed.

In January 2017, Sinn Féin pulled out of the power-sharing government, leaving NI in the stewardship of civil servants and Westminster for three years.

London 'Inflicted' NI Abortion Law 'To Punish Us'

While the DUP believes strongly in the union with Great Britain, the party doesn't agree with some of the more liberal policies pushed by London.

Mr. Paisley said it's "incredible" that the socially conservative NI abortion law is more liberal than in Great Britain as a result of the last collapse of the NI Assembly.

In 2019, Parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act, which included provisions to legalise same-sex marriages and decriminalise abortion.

The latter resulted from the adoption of recommendations from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which claimed the lack of abortion in Northern Ireland was a violation of women's rights.

As a result, abortion is now legal in NI for any reason within 12 weeks of a pregnancy; up to 24 weeks if two medical professionals believe the risks to the mother's "physical or mental health" is greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; and up to birth if a baby is believed to be endangering the mother's life, posing the risk of "permanent injury to [the mother's] physical or mental health," is unlikely to survive, or is likely to be severely disabled.

It went further than abortion law across Great Britain, where babies who are likely to be severely disabled can't be aborted after 24 weeks, and further than many parts of Europe where abortion is only legal during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.

The consultation launched before the law change "was very clear that [the respondents] didn't want the changes, but the government went on ahead and put the changes in place," Mr. Paisley said, adding that it's "incredible" that the socially conservative NI now has "abortion right to the point of birth."

He said London "inflicted" the "ultra-liberal regime" on NI because Whitehall "didn't have the guts to stand firm on" it and wanted to "punish" NI politicians for collapsing the local government.

The politician said he believes abortion shouldn't be "tolerated as a way of birth control." He argued young men and women should learn prudence and strength and choose "alternatives" when they do have an unwanted pregnancy as there are people "willing to adopt children."

Lily Zhou is an Irish-based reporter focusing on UK news. Lily first joined the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times before turning her focus on the UK in 2020.