The last time the DUP had a leader who was also an MP was in 2010, while Peter Robinson was at the helm – but he was ousted from his MP’s seat in 2010 by the Alliance Party, and sat only as an MLA for the rest of his term as party boss.
Then after he quit, he was replaced by two successors – Arlene Foster MLA and Edwin Poots MLA – who had never been MPs.
Sir Jeffrey’s comments appeared yesterday in an interview with the Sunday Times.
The newspaper reported that “none of his MLAs [had been] willing to stand aside” to allow Sir Jeffrey to take a seat in the Assembly – a pre-requisite for becoming first minister.
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But Sir Jeffrey suggested it would be best for him to lead from London anyway.
“I think it is important right now that the leader of unionism is at Westminster,” he was quoted as saying.
“I think many of the issues that confront us are Westminster-based, not least on the Northern Ireland Protocol and dealing with legacy.
“So, for the time being, I am content to be leading the DUP at Westminster.”
The paper reported him as saying that the “political turbulence” of recent months was over within the party, and that there is a “good working relationship between all wings of the party now”.
Speaking about the NI Protocol, Sir Jeffrey reportedly said that unless the issue was resolved in “a matter of weeks”, the north-south institutions set up under the 1998 Belfast Agreement (like the North-South Ministerial Council, set up so Belfast and Dublin could talk over issues of mutual interest) would be boycotted.
But he was hopeful that the Tory government now “gets it” and is prepared to activate Article 16, which basically short-circuits the protocol if the government believes it is causing “serious difficulties”.
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