Donaldson: No consensus at Stormont over protocol

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has told Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis that the largest of the three voting blocs to emerge from the Assembly opposes the NI Protocol and back the DUP’s line that it remains an obstacle to returning to the Executive.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 6:00 am

Following a meeting with the secretary of state on Monday, the DUP leader said that if there is no cross-community support for the protocol then an Executive is “unworkable” at this time.

“With no unionist support, the NI Executive cannot be formed until the Irish Sea border is removed,” Sir Jeffrey said.

He continued: “Our institutions are not based on majority rule, they are based on consensus and power-sharing. Progress is only made in Northern Ireland with the support of unionists and nationalists. Unionism has rejected the NI Protocol. No unionist MLA supports it.”

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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at Erskine House, Belfast, after his meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.

Responding to pressure from the UK government on the DUP to re-form the Executive, Sir Jeffrey said: “Every unionist candidate standing in the election stood in opposition to the protocol and attracted some 360,000 votes. Forty per cent of all votes cast were explicitly for parties who opposed the protocol. Given that the political institutions in Northern Ireland operate on the basis of cross-community consensus, the lack of any unionist support for the protocol means that it is unworkable as it does not command sufficient consensus.”

The DUP leader added: “No more can anyone stand at the Dispatch Box (House of Commons) and argue that the Northern Ireland Protocol is protecting peace and stability in Northern Ireland. The people have spoken.”

Mr Lewis last night acknowledged that the protocol “remains a clear barrier to political stability” but should not stand in the way of restoring the Stormont institutions and enabling the Executive to deliver for all the people of Northern Ireland.

Speaking after a meeting with the leaders of the five main parties, Mr Lewis said: “Northern Ireland’s party leaders must come together to agree a way forward to deliver a stable and accountable devolved government.”

“The UK’s overriding priority remains the preservation of peace and stability in Northern Ireland and the protection of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its strands.

“The current situation with the protocol is fundamentally undermining the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and creating an unacceptable situation in Northern Ireland. We will continue to press the EU to agree crucial changes that are urgently needed but will take nothing off the table in our pursuit of those solutions.”

The secretary of state added: “As I conveyed to party leaders today, our collective focus must be on the restoration of the Stormont institutions so that those newly elected representatives can come together and deliver in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long said last night that she warned the Northern Ireland secretary that any new six-month gap in devolution “should not become another set of crisis talks”.

Mrs Long added: “We want clarity from the secretary of state he is not going to be held to ransom by the DUP and not going to be influenced by a stand-off. He needs to send a clear message to them to get back to work with the rest of us, that the government actually supports devolution.”