DUP may walk out of Stormont power-sharing over Brexit protocol

Jeffrey Donaldson says DUP is ‘totally opposed to Northern Ireland protocol as it presently exists’

The Democratic Unionist party leadership has warned it is prepared to walk out of power-sharing in Stormont if the Brexit Northern Ireland protocol is not changed substantially.

Just days after the Brexit minister, David Frost, announced the UK would not “sweep away” the controversial arrangements, which involve checks on goods crossing into Northern Ireland from Great Britain, the DUP’s leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, warned the DUP could not continue in Stormont if the “protocol issues remain”.

While Lord Frost moved on Monday to suspend parts of the protocol indefinitely, Donaldson upped the ante on Thursday, saying he wanted solutions within weeks.

“We are totally opposed to the protocol as it presently exists. We will neither accept it nor will we work it. In my assessment, the timeframe for resolving issues can be measured in weeks and not months or years,” he said.

“If, in the final analysis, those who are democratically elected by the people of Northern Ireland lack the power to prevent such checks, and the protocol issues remain, then the position in office of DUP ministers would become untenable.”

“Let me be clear: if the choice is ultimately between remaining in office or implementing the protocol in its present form, then the only option for any unionist minister would be to cease to hold such office,” he added in a speech in Belfast.

Sinn Féin’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, called Donaldson’s comments “reckless, irresponsible and a shortsighted election stunt”.

Donaldson said the UK’s approach to “limit” the protocol was “doomed to fail” and it was “far better that we grasp the nettle now and have the matter settled once and for all”.

The remarks, in a speech on Wednesday morning, are the most serious threat by the DUP, coming just 18 months after power-sharing resumed. The Belfast-based assembly collapsed three years earlier after an acrimonious dispute between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

It is a major political move for Donaldson, who took over from Arlene Foster as party leader in the summer. The DUP has slumped in the polls, leaking support to rival unionist parties.

His warnings coincide with the arrival in Belfast of the European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič, Frost’s counterpart in Brussels, for two days of meetings with political, business and civic leaders. Šefčovič was scheduled to meet all Northern Ireland party leaders including the first minister, Paul Givan of the DUP, on Thursday afternoon.

Donaldson noted that Esmond Birnie, a senior economist at the University of Ulster, had recently suggested the cost of the protocol could be in the region of £850m a year. “That is money we simply cannot afford to lose. And though I am alarmed by the constitutional implications of the protocol, it is assuredly not simply a unionist issue.”

He added that the Marks & Spencer chair, Archie Norman, had recently warned that customers in Northern Ireland could face a “substantial reduction in food supply” and price increases this year.

The hardening of opposition to the protocol will be seen as a political gamble by the DUP. According to recent polls, support has slumped to 13%, with the party being overtaken by the Ulster Unionists and the smaller Traditional Unionist Voice.

The leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party accused the DUP of holding the people of Northern Ireland to ransom for “their own narrow self-interest” and said unionist issues were not about Brexit but identity.

“I believe those concerns are genuinely held and legitimate. This debate should not, therefore, be dressed up as a problem with reorienting supply chains. Those issues can be addressed with operational goodwill and political generosity,” said Colum Eastwood.

At the weekend Frost said he was seeking substantial changes to the protocol and wanted to trigger article 13 (8) of the agreement, which allows for the agreement to be superseded. But he said this did not mean axing the protocol, and in his view the new arrangements would still include some checks in the Irish Sea.

“This is not simply a question of limiting checks at the border or moving the checks from the border. It must mean that, save for the most limited circumstances, EU law would not apply in Northern Ireland,” Donaldson said.

Contributor

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Boris Johnson promised to tear up NI protocol, says DUP MP Ian Paisley
Paisley says Johnson told him he ‘would sign up to changing that protocol and indeed tearing it up’

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

14, Oct, 2021 @1:40 PM

Article image
Northern Ireland parties play down Stormont being revived
Leaders voice scepticism about ending 998-day impasse, leaving obstacle to Brexit deal

Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

11, Oct, 2019 @2:47 PM

Article image
Sinn Féin wants Northern Ireland vote in event of no-deal Brexit
Party leader Mary Lou McDonald to tell Theresa May ‘not to hitch herself’ to DUP

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

15, Oct, 2018 @1:37 PM

Article image
Boris Johnson wraps up Northern Ireland talks with no sign of progress on reviving power-sharing - as it happened
Rolling coverage of the day’s political developments as they happen, including Boris Johnson’s visit to Northern Ireland

Andrew Sparrow

31, Jul, 2019 @3:17 PM

Article image
Liz Truss to hold Brexit talks with EU over NI protocol
The foreign secretary, now chief negotiator with the EU, wants ‘a comprehensive solution’

Dan Sabbagh

21, Dec, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Northern Ireland secretary rejects Sinn Féin call for border poll
As Brexit sinks in for towns that voted to remain in EU, Theresa Villiers says there are no grounds for Irish unity referendum

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent in Newry City

24, Jun, 2016 @4:06 PM

Article image
Holyrood and Stormont reject 'disastrous' Brexit trade deal
Scottish and Northern Irish parliaments condemn deal in symbolic votes as Westminster backs it

Severin Carrell and Rory Carroll

30, Dec, 2020 @5:19 PM

Article image
Sinn Féin: vote on Irish reunification must follow no-deal Brexit
Mary Lou McDonald challenges Boris Johnson on Northern Ireland at Stormont meeting

Peter Walker and Jessica Elgot

31, Jul, 2019 @10:33 AM

Article image
Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald: 'Theresa May needs to lead'
PM accused of having ‘no plan, no map’ for restoring power-sharing in Northern Ireland

Heather Stewart and Lisa O'Carroll

22, Feb, 2018 @3:00 PM

Article image
EU calls on Brexit minister to stop ‘political posturing’ over NI protocol
‘We cannot undo Brexit,’ says Maroš Šefčovič after David Frost says ‘more urgency’ required in negotiations

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

21, Nov, 2021 @12:16 PM