Robinson ‘to continue Irish Sea border fight’ after being ratified as DUP leader

Gavin Robinson has pledged to “continue to fight” against an Irish Sea border after being ratified as DUP leader.

Mr Robinson has been the party’s interim leader since early April following Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s resignation after being charged with historical sex offences.

Mr Robinson was “unanimously” ratified as the party’s leader at a meeting of its ruling executive on Wednesday.

“It is with honour, humility and commitment that I look forward to leading our party into the future,” he said.

In an address to party members in Lisburn, he defended his party’s decision to return to powersharing in Northern Ireland and pledged to “continue our quest” in relation to the protocol.

“It wrecked the settled political balance within Northern Ireland and led directly to a loss of unionist confidence,” he said.

The DUP ended its two-year boycott of devolved government in Northern Ireland in February after striking a deal with the Government on post-Brexit arrangements.

Donaldson made the decision to return his party to Stormont based on a package of proposals aimed at reducing red tape on Irish Sea trade and providing assurances over Northern Ireland’s place in the union.

However, a significant minority of DUP elected representatives remain opposed to the deal, insisting it does not go far enough to remove the contentious “Irish Sea border”.

General Election campaign 2024
Gavin Robinson was ratified as the party’s new leader (Jonathan McCambridge/PA)

While outlining his party’s election message, Mr Robinson criticised the Tories for inflicting what he said was “some of the greatest harm” on Northern Ireland.

He said that the decision to return to Stormont was made in the interests of seeing local decisions being made for people which “would not have been taken by direct rule Conservative ministers”.

He said that while the Command Paper “did not remedy a number of the long-term problems born out of the protocol”, it did contain “important gains”.

“Our clear message going forward is that we are campaigning to send a strong message to a new Government, whether Labour or Conservative, that building on the progress to date, we will continue to fight to fully restore Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, including removing the application of EU law in our country and the internal Irish Sea border it creates,” the DUP leader said, which was met with applause.

He also said that “illegal immigration” had become “an emerging and growing issue” in Northern Ireland, and pledged to act on this through legislation at Westminster.

Mr Robinson also confirmed the party’s General Election candidates at the meeting, calling them “a strong, united and determined team” that have “a determination to fight for every vote”.

They are Gregory Campbell in East Londonderry, Sammy Wilson in East Antrim, Jim Shannon in Strangford, Ian Paisley in North Antrim, Gavin Robinson in East Belfast, Paul Girvan in South Antrim, Carla Lockhart in Upper Bann, Jonathan Buckley in Lagan Valley, Phillip Brett in North Belfast, Tracy Kelly in South Belfast and Mid Down, Frank McCoubrey in West Belfast, Gary Middleton in Foyle, Tom Buchanan in West Tyrone, Keith Buchanan in Mid-Ulster, Diane Forsyth in South Down, and Gareth Wilson in Newry and Armagh.