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DUP threatens to collapse Stormont ‘before November’ amid NI Protocol row

Jeffrey Donaldson said he feared negotiations over the protocol would drag on for years.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Sep 10th 2021, 2:12 PM

THE DUP LEADER has indicated that he intends to pull his ministers out of the Stormont Executive before November if his demands on the Northern Ireland Protocol are not met.

Jeffrey Donaldson also said he made the decision because he feared that negotiations between the EU and UK Government over the protocol would be “dragged out” for years.

He has said that he wants the UK Government to legislate in October to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market and avoid a collapse of the powersharing institutions and an early election.

The DUP leader’s position, which was set out in a speech yesterday, brought a furious reaction from other Stormont parties.

But speaking to the BBC Nolan Show today, Donaldson said he had been working on the strategy of opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol for months.

He said: “I have been reasonable, I have given people time to take the action that I feel is necessary to remove this Irish Sea border.

“I have worked with the Government, I have engaged with the EU, I have put forward proposals and suggestions in terms of how we can address these issues.

“There reaches a point where, with the decision taken to extend the grace periods indefinitely, that it appears to me that this will be dragged out for months, if not years, and we simply can’t afford that.

“The harm that is being done to our economy every day is not sustainable.”

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing land border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

It achieves that by moving many of the checks and processes required on goods to the Irish Sea.

Under the arrangements, Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods and continues to apply EU customs rules.

Unionists in Northern Ireland have been vehemently opposed to its terms which see additional checks on goods arriving to the region from the rest of the UK.

Donaldson aid he expected the Government to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market, pointing out that this was a commitment in the New Decade, New Approach agreement which restored Stormont after a three-year suspension.

Asked if he would pull his ministers out of the Executive before November if the Government did not legislate in October, Donaldson said: “I think that is the sort of timescale we are working to now.

“If they introduce legislation to give effect to the commitment they gave in the New Decade, New Approach agreement to protect our place in the UK internal market, to remove the Irish Sea border, I think that would be a very significant step indeed.”

Donaldson met this week with the UK’s Brexit minister David Frost, and also with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and said he believes there is now a “realisation” that action needs to be taken over the protocol.

Europe’s stance 

Delivering a keynote speech at Queen’s University in Belfast, Sefcovic said any attempt to renegotiate the post-Brexit agreement between the EU and the UK Government would cause “instability, uncertainty and unpredictability” in Northern Ireland.

Sefcovic also said that the Northern Ireland Protocol must be “properly implemented”, but said this would require compromises on both sides.

He said the EU had been “engaging constructively” with the UK Government to limit the impact of the protocol on everyday life in Northern Ireland.

He added: “The EU and the UK must continue these discussions in order to reach an understanding.

“I believe that our focus should be on those issues that matter the most to the people of Northern Ireland, and not on requests, such as removing the role of the European Court of Justice.

“Doing this would effectively mean cutting Northern Ireland off the EU’s single market and related opportunities. Instead, let’s see what can be done to further ease the supply of goods.

“And let’s see how to involve the people of Northern Ireland in our discussions on the implementation of the protocol.

“A renegotiation of the protocol – as the UK Government is suggesting – would mean instability, uncertainty and unpredictability in Northern Ireland.

“Bear in mind it has already taken us five years to get to this point.”

european-commission-vice-president-maros-sefcovic-speaking-after-a-meeting-with-business-leaders-in-newry-he-is-currently-on-a-two-day-trip-to-northern-ireland-to-find-out-about-issues-with-the-north European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic is visiting Northern Ireland Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Sefcovic also pledged to do “whatever it takes” to ensure that the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland is not disrupted because of the protocol.

But he added: “I also need to be honest: while we will continue looking for solutions to minimise the effects of Brexit on your everyday lives, we will never be able to remove them entirely – such are the consequences of Brexit and of the choices of the UK Government.”

Sefcovic continued: “I am, of course, acutely aware of how some in Northern Ireland feel about the protocol, in particular in the unionist community.

“We are seeking solutions that work for all, including those opposed to the protocol. Because no matter what your outlook is, we are all in this for the long run.

“I know it is possible for us to work together, if rhetoric on both sides is dialled down.”

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Yesterday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that Europe is in “solution mode” and wants to work hard within the existing arrangement to make the protocol work for the people of Northern Ireland”,

Speaking to reporters at the Fianna Fáil think-in in Co Cavan, Martin said that “from our perspective, the issue now is can we make this work”.

“What’s clear is all parties would like to see streamlining and more flexible operation of the protocol and that’s what we’re going to work on,” the Taoiseach said.

“It’s no secret that I’m passionately committed to maintaining the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and their full operation in all aspects north and south,” he said.

With reporting by Christina Finn and Press Association

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