Sir Jeffrey Donaldson promises flurry of new pro-Union bodies if he is elected DUP leader

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has proposed a flurry of new pro-Union groups if he is elected DUP leader – but makes no mention of the Irish language act in his manifesto.

Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 12:10 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th May 2021, 1:45 pm

Two days before the DUP leadership contest Sir Jeffrey has circulated a written outline of what he would do if he defeats Edwin Poots to succeed Arlene Foster.

The electronic leaflet, which has been seen by the News Letter, is the latest to emerge from each camp as they campaign by pdf but are banned from talking to the media where they could be questioned about the many issues not addressed in the documents.

In the leaflet sent to the other 35 MLAs or MPs who will get to decide who leads the DUP, Sir Jeffrey said he would “build on the success of securing UK government support for the independent Castlereagh Foundation”, an academic fund which last January’s New Decade, New Approach deal said would “explore identity and the shifting patterns of social identity in Northern Ireland.”

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that the NI Protocol is “completely unacceptable”

Despite being trumpeted by Mrs Foster at the time, the fund has still not opened.

Sir Jeffrey also proposed a “coalition for the Union” and an annual UK-wide “conference on the Union” to bring together people from across civic and political society, business and academia “to encourage thinking and promotion of pro-Union ideas, research and relationships”.

He also endorsed the holding of a ‘unionist convention’ “as an opportunity to build such practical and strategic unity”.

He said the DUP would seek to use that pan-unionist discussion to build a united approach to issues such as the NI Protocol and would also establish “a new pro-Union campaigning group” to “augment the work of parties” as “an example of unionism embracing ‘the politics of persuasion’”.

Somewhat surprisingly, given that the material is for DUP MLAs and MPs who are already committed unionists, the manifesto stresses the importance of the Union, saying “it is beyond doubt that the future of Northern Ireland is best served within the United Kingdom, the world’s fifth largest economy and a global powerhouse”.

Sir Jeffrey defended his stance, and the DUP’s actions, in the period where it held the balance of power in Westminster but where it failed to stop the Irish Sea border being created.

He insisted that the DUP had “consistently opposed the economic and constitutional separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in all of its manifestations”.

He said that the protocol “remains completely unacceptable” and that “as unionists, we cannot be silent”.

However, as with Mr Poots, Sir Jeffrey is vague on precisely what he would do about the protocol beyond complaining about it and doing what Arlene Foster had been doing in supporting a legal challenge, implementing her ‘five-point plan’ and lobbying the government to trigger Article 16 to unilaterally end the border checks.

He called for Boris Johnson to convene a summit on internal UK trade and said: “Under my leadership, we will continue to vigorously oppose the protocol, both in principle and in practice. There cannot be mixed messaging on this.”

As with Edwin Poots, there is no mention of what Sir Jeffrey would do about an Irish language act.

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