Jeffrey Donaldson says EU has revived idea of hard Irish land border

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has stepped up his warnings about the potential for the EU to engineer a hard land border on the island of Ireland.

By Adam Kula
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 7:06 am
Updated Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 9:29 am

The DUP leader delivered this message to the House of Commons yesterday, drawing a response from Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis that “we will never be looking at any sort of infrastructure” on the Irish border.

There is already infrastructure at Northern Irish ports for the purpose of enforcing the Irish Sea border.

Meanwhile, in a prickly scene in the Commons, Sir Jeffrey’s remarks prompted open scorn from SDLP MP Claire Hanna, who – seated just behind the DUP chief – exclaimed “wow”, said “what?”, and shook her head upon hearing his remarks.

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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Amid all of this, Sinn Fein continued to talk up the economic benefits of the protocol yesterday.

The notion of a hard border on the island of Ireland, which was common in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, has resurfaced in recent days following remarks from EU supremo Maros Sefcovic.

He had been quoted by the Belfast Telegraph as saying: “What I can tell you with 100% certainty is that I cannot imagine that there will be access for Northern Ireland to the single market without respecting the fact that the European Court of Justice is the ultimate arbiter on adopting the rulings on how the EU law and single market rules are applied.”

On Tuesday Sir Jeffrey had briefed the foreign press corps in London on the DUP’s protocol position, telling them that Mr Sefcovic’s words amounted to a threat of “retaliation” over the existence of the Protocol Bill (which aims to give ministers the power to nullify parts of the protocol).

This retaliation, Sir Jeffrey said, appeared to involve “prevent[ing] Northern Ireland businesses having access to their single market”.

What this would mean in real-world terms, Sir Jeffrey said, is that it “suggests they are preparing to create a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.

And in the Commons yesterday he repeated this refrain, saying: “The EU has threatened to remove access for Northern Ireland businesses to their single market.

“And to police this, they would have to create a hard border on the island of Ireland – that’s the only consequence of their actions.

“Does the secretary of state agree with me that such a threat from the EU indicates that far from wanting to protect the Good Friday Agreement, and peace and stability in Northern Ireland, they simply want to punish Northern Ireland businesses because the UK government wants to protect the UK internal market?”

Mr Lewis replied that this was an “important point” adding: “We’ll never be looking at any sort of infrastructure, there cannot be a hard border on the island of Ireland in the same way there should not be a hard border between east and west.”

Ms Hanna had spoken earlier in the debate, saying the upcoming Protocol Bill is akin to “a demolition derby” of the principles inherent in the Good Friday Agreement.

DUP MP Jim Shannon also rose to speak, telling the House: “The latest business to report disruption to its supply is a photo-framing business in Newtownards, whose supplier has said that the profit margin is not worth the hassle of sending its order, so it has been cancelled.

“That is another of the 200 companies that trade between England and Northern Ireland; the tale is repeated for businesses in every postcode. The government must do the right thing and restore our position, not just constitutionally but financially for businesses.”

He asked when the Protocol Bill will actually next come before the Commons.

“I cannot confirm the exact date at this point,” Mr Lewis said.

“But we have introduced the bill and he can be reassured that the government are committed to resolving the problems with the protocol.”

In a statement from Sinn Fein yesterday, following the publication of research from the London School of Economics on the impact of Brexit on the economy, the party said: “This latest analysis highlights once again that Brexit is a disaster economically.

“It is also further evidence that the protocol is protecting the north from the worst excesses of the hard Brexit delivered by the Tories and the DUP.”