Increasingly bullish Sir Jeffrey Donaldson willing to collapse Stormont over Irish Sea border, his camp says
Sources close to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson have for the third time briefed that he is prepared to collapse Stormont, signalling a new phase in which both the DUP and Sinn Fein see walking away from government as a negotiating tactic.
Sinn Fein collapsed government in January 2017 at the height of the RHI scandal but until now the DUP has insisted that it would not do so.
However, that now appears to be changing and the emerging policy will mean further political instability.
Last week ‘The Nolan Show’ reported that former DUP leader Peter Robinson believed that the DUP needed to threaten to bring Stormont down in order to secure leverage with the government, believing that the government is desperate to save devolution and will make concessions to avoid having to implement direct rule.
However, that stance carries enormous risks because it will only be credible if the government believes that the DUP – which polls suggest is on course for an electoral hammering and is now at war with itself – is really prepared to face voters.
If it is not, then the new leader’s bluff could be exposed and they would have to humiliatingly back down.
Six weeks ago, on the eve of the DUP leadership election in which Edwin Poots defeated Sir Jeffrey, ‘The Nolan Show’ was told by Sir Jeffrey’s camp that he was willing to cut off north-south cooperation in a way which the DUP knew may mean the collapse of devolution.
Two days ago the Sunday Life reported that the DUP was prepared to collapse devolution if the government passes a de facto Irish language act over Stormont’s head.
The paper quoted a senior party figure who said that Sir Jeffrey would not propose a first minister, thus setting the clock ticking on an autumn election.
Adding to the bullish talk, on Monday Stephen Nolan reported that sources close to Sir Jeffrey’s camp had told him that “he will demand no barriers to trade and demand there is full respect for the Act of Union or he will pull the DUP out of the Assembly”.
Although Mr Nolan said those sources said that Sir Jeffrey expects the government to make “significant changes to the protocol within weeks”, that will only cross the “no barriers to trade” threshold set by the likely DUP leader if the protocol is effectively scrapped, something which seems highly unlikely.
Mr Nolan also reported that Sir Jeffrey would be less focused on attempting to block a de facto Irish language act and would be concentrating on the protocol.
The News Letter asked the DUP if Sir Jeffrey disputed that. At the time of going to press, there had been no response.
Putting devolution on the negotiating table aligns the DUP with the stance advocated by TUV leader Jim Allister, the arch-critic of the Stormont system.
However, it puts further distance between the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party which under new leader Doug Beattie has made clear that devolution should not be used for leverage in the negotiations.
On Friday Mr Beattie, who took over as leader from Steve Aiken last month, said bluntly: ”If these institutions collapse again, they will never get up and running. I’m telling you now that once Stormont collapses, it will not get up and running again.”