The DUP has announced it will attempt to unite unionism to campaign against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

In its statement, the DUP warned that north-south relationships will not continue as normal.

It comes after the withdrawal of border inspection personnel at Larne and Belfast ports following concerns about their safety.

Inspections of goods arriving at the ports were suspended yesterday and officials withdrawn after sinister graffiti and reports of intelligence-gathering on inspectors.

The PSNI said this evening it had no evidence that the main loyalist paramilitary groups were behind the graffiti and they blamed individuals or small groups of people for the intimidation.

DUP leader Arlene Foster is to hold discussions with the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tomorrow.

Mr Johnson has said Northern Ireland's place in the UK will be "protected and strengthened".

He also said the UK's commitment to the people of Northern Ireland is "unshakeable".

In a post on Twitter, Mr Johnson said: "Our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland and our Union is unshakeable. Recent EU moves have undermined the Protocol & understandably provoked concern.

"Let me underline that, now & in the future, Northern Ireland's place in the UK will be protected and strengthened.

"What is needed is urgent action from the EU to resolve outstanding problems with Protocol implementation, so as to preserve the gains of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement & ensure that Northern Ireland benefits from Brexit just like every other part of our United Kingdom."

British government minister Michael Gove will meet European Commission personnel tomorrow to explore what changes might be made to the contentious measures.

In the meantime, the DUP has escalated its campaign against the protocol.

That includes an online petition calling for the UK government to remove barriers to unfettered trade and opposing protocol-related legislation in the Stormont Assembly.

The party promised to work with other unionists to send a united message to London, Brussels and Dublin that Northern Ireland must be freed from the post-Brexit arrangement and its problems.

It also said it will:
- Not participate in any north-south political engagement on issues related to the protocol
- Strive for a united unionist message demanding scrapping of the arrangements
- Attempt to build support for the anti-protocol position at Westminster
- Launch a parliamentary e-petition with the ambition of securing enough signatures to force a debate on the issue

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The DUP said: "The government needs to be bold and be prepared to act to bring about outcomes that underpin Northern Ireland's full place in the most important internal market for us - that of the UK.

"The prime minister must now directly address the people of Northern Ireland on the growing crisis arising from the protocol."

Democratic Unionists vowed to actively oppose at every opportunity any negative measures, laws or bills that continue to flow from the protocol and which undermine Northern Ireland's place in the UK internal market.

Some party members have faced threats after the protocol came into operation at the start of this year aimed at keeping the land border open by ensuring Northern Ireland followed the EU's trade rules.

Irish Sea commerce from Great Britain has seen disruption and extra paperwork as a result.

On Friday, the EU backtracked over invoking Article 16 of its agreement with the UK to block coronavirus supplies from crossing the border from the Republic into Northern Ireland.

The DUP statement said that revealed that the arguments advanced by the EU around protecting the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement institutions were not borne out of principle but political opportunism.

It added: "The revealing actions on Friday by the EU have caused very significant anger and harm within Northern Ireland and has compounded the notion that the EU is playing fast and loose with Northern Ireland, attempting on the one hand to require the UK Government to enforce its obligations whilst being prepared to waive elements of the protocol when it suits the needs of the EU.

"This is unsustainable.

"It is evident that the EU's priority is not protecting the Belfast Agreement but is entirely about protecting its own single market."

It said the protocol has upset the balance of relationships flowing from the Good Friday Agreement that many others claimed were unalterable.

DUP announcement criticised as 'reckless' and 'utter madness'

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has criticised the DUP decision as "reckless".

"The majority of people and parties in the North opposed Brexit and worked hard over five years to secure the Irish Protocol. It protects the Good Friday Agreement and it is critical to future economic progress," said Ms McDonald in a statement released this evening.

"The Irish Protocol allows businesses in the North to export to Britain and the EU seamlessly, something that is of huge benefit to the North. It is critical that it is not unpicked and undermined after five weeks in operation.

"The position adopted by the DUP is reckless and is not driven by the best interests of the people of the North. I urge them to pull back.

"Now is the time for calm leadership and solutions to deal with the disruption which has arisen as a result of Brexit.".

The Deputy Leader of the Alliance Party and MP for North Down, Stephen Farry, described this evening's statement by the DUP as "utter madness" and "a road to nowhere".

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News, he said this will only lead to more deadlock more distraction and more pain for Northern Ireland.

Mr Farry said the DUP needed to engage with reality and accept the reasons why the protocol exists.

He said that when the UK opted for a hard Brexit with the support of the DUP, the result was there had to be a special arrangement for Northern Ireland and lines had to be drawn which would result in some form of pain.

He said there must be cooperation with the EU to try to mitigate this as much as possible.