Donaldson says he will not leave Commons until NI Protocol issues are resolved

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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he will not leave the House of Commons to take up his seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly until issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved.

The DUP leader was elected to Stormont in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections last week, but there had been uncertainty over whether he would take up his position as an MLA or remain at Westminster.

Speaking in House of Commons on Tuesday evening, he said: “My party is absolutely committed to the future of the political institutions. We want them to work and to deliver for everyone in Northern Ireland.

“My party is committed to the operation of those institutions. We are committed to our participation in those institutions.

I will not leave this House until I can be sure that our political institutions in Northern Ireland have a stable foundation

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

“But it has to be on the basis of fairness, it has to be on the basis of a consensus, it has to be on the basis that we address the problems that are in front of us and that have flown from the imposition of the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

He went on: “I’m prepared to commit the remainder of my political career to going back to those institutions and working with my colleagues to make them work.

“I am prepared to leave this House where I have been a member of for 25 years, and which I would dearly love to continue being a part of, because I want to invest in the future of our people, I want to work for our people, I want to deliver good government.

“But I have to say… I will not leave this House until this protocol issue is resolved. I will not leave this House until I can be sure that our political institutions in Northern Ireland have a stable foundation.”

Earlier, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill had said that the protocol is “here to stay” and called on the DUP to join an Executive at Stormont.

She was reacting amid speculation that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss could move to start scrapping parts of the protocol from as soon as next week.

Ms O’Neill spoke to the media following a visit to the Ulster Hospital, where she said staff there were going “above and beyond”.

When I spoke to Boris Johnson I made it very clear that they need to stop playing a game of chicken

Michelle O'Neill

She added: “This highlights again why we need to have a functioning Executive, why we need to be in there, why we need to have stewardship of the health department and how all of us in political leadership need to work together to do what needs to be done to fix our health service.

“The health service staff are crying out for that help and support. They need that political leadership and I want all of the parties sitting round the Executive table to do that.”

She added: “I did speak to Boris Johnson and I made it very clear to him that his pandering to the DUP and the dialling up of rhetoric serves no purpose to provide the certainty and stability that people here want to see. This action of the British Government today in cahoots with the DUP punishes the people here.

“When I spoke to Boris Johnson I made it very clear that they need to stop playing a game of chicken.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill speaking after a visit to the Emergency Department at the Ulster Hospital, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill speaking after a visit to the Emergency Department at the Ulster Hospital, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA) (PA Wire)

“They are using the people here in the north as a pawn in their power play with the European Union.

“Honesty needs to be brought to the conversation, the protocol is here to stay. Are there ways to smooth its implementation? Yes there are. Are we up for that? Yes.

“But that Executive in Stormont needs to be sitting every day, it needs to be putting money into people’s pockets, it needs to be fixing our health service and let’s work together.

“The approach of the British Government in pandering to the DUP’s nonsense is not going to wash and it isn’t working for the people here.”

But Sir Jeffrey said that “words in themselves will not fix this problem” after the Government stopped short of pledging to take action on the protocol in the Queen’s Speech.

Sir Jeffrey told reporters in London that he is committed to leading the DUP into political institutions at Stormont.

But he added: “I’m also very clear we need to resolve the issues here in terms of the protocol and I will be making my position clear on that before the end of this week.”

He said he had reached out to the EU and was hoping to meet the EU ambassador to “receive an update from them”.

“In the absence of agreement with the EU, then the UK Government, I think, must act to safeguard the political institutions in Northern Ireland; to safeguard the political process. That has to be the Prime Minister’s priority,” he told reporters.

“To be honest I’ve given the EU months and months and months, we’ve had interminable negotiations, but we haven’t had results, we haven’t had outcomes, we haven’t had decisive action in those negotiations, and that’s what we need.”

Following the historic election result at the weekend, Sinn Fein is now the largest party at Stormont and entitled to nominate the first nationalist or republican First Minister.

However, the DUP must nominate a deputy First Minister to serve alongside in the joint office.

Sir Jeffrey said that, during his call with the Prime Minister, he “reiterated our position that we cannot nominate to an Executive until decisive action is taken on the protocol”.

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