Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Jim Allister in war of words over NI Protocol deadline

Recriminations were flying last night between two senior unionists, after Jim Allister accused Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of making mere “empty threats” over the NI Protocol.

Monday, 1st November 2021, 7:28 am
Updated Monday, 1st November 2021, 5:15 pm
Jim Allister alongside Jeffrey Donaldson in 2004 when they were colleagues together in the DUP; Mr Allister quit the party three years later, and has been a fierce critic of it ever since

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey in turn accused the TUV leader of being happier “hurling grenades” at fellow unionists than in truly finding solutions to the Irish Sea border.

The war of words concerns a deadline which was mooted by Sir Jeffrey several weeks ago.

To make sense of this, we have to go back to January 2020, when the New Decade New Approach (NDNA) deal was struck, allowing the DUP and SF to get back into government together.

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This deal stated: “The government is absolutely committed to ensuring that Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the UK internal market ...

“We will legislate to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market, and ensure that this legislation is in force for January 1, 2021.”

This never in fact happened.

Then in mid-September this year, after having attained control as DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey threatened to collapse the power-sharing government unless real action was taken on the Protocol.

Specifically, he pointed to the commitment in the NDNA agreement to “introduce legislation to protect our position” in the Union, adding: “October ... [is] when I would expect the government to act on their commitment.”

Today’s date is November 1.

COUNTDOWN... TO WHAT?

The above quote is just one of a number of times Sir Jeffrey has indicated a timetable for action on the Protocol.

For example, on October 1 he gave an interview to the News Letter in which he said: “We’re looking to the next few weeks to see what action the government takes.

“But we’re very clear time is of the essence, and we need to see firm action.”

He also said: “I did say at the time that if we reach the end of October and the government is introducing legislation on a culture package that includes proposals on the Irish language – and haven’t honoured the commitment they gave in New Decade New Approach to restore NI’s place within the UK internal market – obviously that will have severe consequences for the sustainability for the political institutions.”

Then on October 4, Lord Frost – the UK’s main negotiator with the EU – seemed to indicate that he was working to a timetable of Christmas.

Asked whether the problems surrounding Article 16 could be over by December 25, he responded: “Will it be over by Christmas? I think something will be over by Christmas.”

‘JIM JUST HURLING GRENADES AT FELLOW UNIONISTS’

TUV North Antrim MLA Mr Allister has now said: “The DUP leader’s threat and promise of 50 days ago was clear: if Her Majesty’s government did not legislate in October to restore NI’s place within UK internal market he would pull his ministers out of the Executive.

“Sadly the DUP has backed down.

“Failing to deliver on a threat or promise not just damages the credibility of the threat-maker, but, more importantly, signals to those whom the threat is intended to influence that you don’t need to be taken seriously.”

He added that the DUP had “let its bluff be called on the Protocol”, saying that “despite Sir Jeffrey’s empty threat the Protocol continues” –concluding: “It’s time to waken up!”

Last night Sir Jeffrey hit back hard.

“Unionism stands in united opposition to the Protocol, but Jim is more interested in attacking the DUP than in recognising any progress made by our strategy,” he told the News Letter.

“When I became leader, no one in London or Brussels accepted the Irish Sea border was a major problem and no-one was open to renegotiation.

“Thanks to the strategy adopted by us, those walls have been breached.

“The EU and the UK are now back at the table.

“Therefore, now is not the time for unionism to walk away.

“We must keep our nerve and see this through.

“Whether those negotiations produce a proper outcome remains to be seen but I believe we won’t have to wait much longer to find out ...

“Jim is a great man for bombast and sound bites, but this challenge requires more than sound bites. It requires courageous leadership and strategy.

“We have both.

“If Jim wants to work with us that is fine.

“If he wants to stand and hurl grenades at fellow unionists then that’s a matter for him – but such actions won’t deal with the Protocol.”

In late September the DUP, UUP, TUV and PUP issued what they called a “joint unionist declaration in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol”.

It consisted of a single paragraph, as follows:

“We the undersigned Unionist political leaders affirm our opposition to the NI Protocol, its mechanisms and structures, and reaffirm our unalterable position that the Protocol must be rejected and replaced by arrangements which fully respect NI’s position as a constituent and integral part of the UK.”

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