Brexit: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says Union ‘more important than anything else’

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said it is “unlikely” his party will have to follow through on its threat of withdrawing parliamentary support for Theresa May.

However, he warned that the DUP would not hesitate to use its influence at Westminster to protect the Union, stating: “It is more important than anything else.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson feels it is unlikley the DUP will have to withdraw parliamentary support for Theresa May

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson feels it is unlikley the DUP will have to withdraw parliamentary support for Theresa May

Arlene Foster’s party said it is ready to block this month’s Budget and potentially topple the prime minister unless they receive sufficient reassurances that there will be no Irish Sea border post-Brexit.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds warned on Monday that his party was prepared to paralyse the Conservatives’ domestic agenda if the PM breached the DUP’s Brexit red lines, but would stop short of pulling down the government.

However, in a sign that the government is potentially making headway behind the scenes on the thorny issue of the Irish backstop, Sir Jeffrey told the News Letter: “We are making progress on Brexit with our discussions with the government and therefore I think it is unlikely this situation will arise.”

The DUP MP was speaking after UUP councillor Stephen Nicholl raised concerns that the DUP’s threat to vote down the Budget could jeopardise the £1bn Belfast region city deal.

Belfast and five other councils on the eastern side of Northern Ireland have joined forces with universities and higher education institutions to pitch for a city deal they believe can deliver 20,000 jobs through a 10-year investment strategy.

It is hoped Chancellor Philip Hammond will give the go-ahead for a bespoke investment deal similar to those secured by other urban centres around the UK.

But Mr Nicholl stated that it would be the “height of hypocrisy” for DUP councillors to lobby for more money for the deal, given the DUP’s threat to vote against the Budget.

Calling for clarification on the DUP’s position, the Mid and East Antrim councillor said: “A £1 billion investment package for the Belfast city region is dependent on the chancellor agreeing to £450 million being approved in this Budget.

“Councillors from the Belfast City region along with council officers and business representatives are due to be in Westminster on October 23 and 24 to lobby for this investment.”

Sir Jeffrey said that while the chancellor was required to sign off on the £450m for the city deal, he added: “Whether he will do that in the Budget or not remains to be seen. We are now working out the detail and how much funding will be required.”

When asked if the party voting down the Budget could potentially put the city deal at risk, Sir Jeffrey said: “We don’t believe it would prevent the government providing its contribution to the city deal, as that is an essential part of the confidence and supply agreement.”

While he felt progress was being made on the Brexit situation, Sir Jeffrey warned: “We have made clear that if it means protecting the Union, we will use our votes to do that and if that means voting against the Budget we will do it because the Union is more important than anything else.”

In a statement, South Belfast DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said: “It is not the desire of the DUP to vote against the government’s domestic agenda, we would not sit idly by if there was a suggestion the Union could be broken or fractured.”