DUP leader plays down perceived ‘snub’ to NI in PM’s keynote address

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has played down the significance of Northern Ireland’s protocol difficulties being overlooked in the Prime Minister’s keynote speech at the Tory conference.

By Mark Rainey
Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 7:44 pm

The DUP leader stressed he was more interested in “action than words,” and went on to say that his plea for more action, to address the post-Brexit trade disruption, have “been well received” by influential Conservatives this week.

In his address to the party faithful in Manchester yesterday, Mr Johnson made only passing reference to the Province – including highlighting the government’s investment in the road network around Cairnryan in Scotland he described as “vital for the links with Northern Ireland and the rest of the country”.

Mr Johnson also failed to mention the prospect for the UK triggering Article 16 in an effort to alleviate some of the problems.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Tuesday October 5, 2021. Photo: Ben Lowry

Questioned by the News Letter about the PM’s omission, Brexit Minister Lord Frost also played down its significance.

“I think a lot has been said about the protocol at this conference by me and others, and we are going to go on and sort out the problem – absolutely,” he said.

Speaking to the media following the PM’s speech, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “I long for the day when the word protocol is no longer a part of the political lexicon in the United Kingdom.

“I’m interested in action and not just words. And what we have heard this week, from Lord Frost for example, and in a meeting that lasted almost an hour with the Prime Minister, is the determination of the UK Government to take action to address our concerns around the protocol and the damage it is doing to the economy, and to political stability in Northern Ireland.”

The DUP leader added: “I’m not taking anything on trust. I will judge people on what they do, more than on what they say.

“And I think it is action now that we need, and that has been my clear message at this conference this week, and it is a message that has been well received.”

Sir Jeffrey’s DUP colleague Sammy Wilson later suggested that Mr Johnson was too “embarrassed” by his broken promises over the NI Protocol to mention the subject in his conference speech.

Although DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson played down the significance of the omission, his party colleague Sammy Wilson said the Prime Minister would not have wanted to remind the audience of his unfulfilled pledges.

“It doesn’t surprise me, he is probably deeply embarrassed about Northern Ireland and the protocol promises he made and broke,” he told the BBC’s Talkback programme.

“And I’m sure he doesn’t want to remind his audience that it was one of the many promises he has broken to the people of Northern Ireland and to his own party members.

“What is important is not whether he mentions it in his speech but whether his government sees through the promises being made by Lord Frost, namely that the issues of the protocol will be dealt with.”

Mr Wilson added: “If he is capable of being embarrassed about any promises he breaks I don’t know. I suspect he probably isn’t.

“I think given the issues which are affecting the Conservative Party in GB at present, it is not surprising that he has centred on those issues.”

The Prime Minister’s wife Carrie joined her husband on stage for an embrace following his speech. The couple then left the stage at the Manchester Central Convention Centre together, at the end of the final event of the conference.

Mrs Johnson sat several rows back from the stage for the speech, flanked on her left by Mr Johnson’s sister Rachel Johnson.

As the PM entered the conference hall to a standing ovation, he paused to greet his wife and to kiss her on the cheek.

Throughout the Prime Minister’s speech, a live television camera cut to the front rows in the hall, and on screens around the stage Cabinet members could be seen nodding as Mr Johnson delivered his address, with Mrs Johnson visible over their shoulders.

During his speech, Mr Johnson laid out what he thought the Government’s slogan of “levelling up” means, including by providing more opportunities for jobs in “left behind” areas.