Donaldson hoping for Johnson move on North protocol ‘within weeks’

DUP leader repeats warnings of street unrest potential unless post-Brexit protocol changes

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson: ‘I’m worried that if this protocol continues and people become more fearful about the future, then again we will see people back out on the streets.’ Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA Wire

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson: ‘I’m worried that if this protocol continues and people become more fearful about the future, then again we will see people back out on the streets.’ Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA Wire

 

Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said he hopes British prime minister Boris Johnson will move “in the next few weeks” to implement radical changes to the Northern Ireland protocol.

Restating his warnings during the week of the potential for a return to street unrest unless there are changes to the post-Brexit arrangements, he said he was concerned about tensions boiling over again.

“Earlier in the year we had people back out on the streets again. There was civil unrest, there was violence on the streets,” he told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast.

“I don’t want that to happen, I want Northern Ireland to be peaceful, prosperous, stable but I’m worried that if this protocol continues and people become more fearful about the future, then again we will see people back out on the streets, and that is not good because it has the potential for further unrest.”

Mr Donaldson said the “future of the union is threatened by this protocol and I hope the UK government will do the right thing and honour the commitments they have already given to resolve these issues”.

In July, Britain published a so-called command paper outlining radical proposals to change the protocol. The European Union rejected any renegotiation of the agreement between London and Brussels which was years in the making.

On Friday in Belfast, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic appeared to sound a more optimistic note on a way forward, by declaring a “victory for all” solution could be reached.

After Mr Donaldson threatened to collapse the power-sharing Stormont Executive over the impasse, Mr Sefcovic said: “I do not need any political victory here, I want to find a solution which would represent win-win – victory for all, first and foremost for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Speaking to the BBC’s podcast, Mr Donaldson said he hoped Mr Johnson would honour pledges to change the protocol “in the next few weeks” and “resolve the difficulties that this protocol has created and remove the Irish Sea border, something he said would never happen”.

The Lagan Valley MP stopped short of specifically calling for the protocol to be scrapped, saying “it needs to be replaced with new arrangements that respect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market”.

Checks are being carried out on the Irish Sea to ensure goods coming into the North meet EU standards, so as to protect the EU single market and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Street violence

Mr Donaldson said he, political colleagues and community workers were working to prevent violence on the streets during the summer.

“But I’m simply saying that if politics fails and if we don’t find the solutions then I fear that there will be others who may decide to step into the gap,” he added.

“I don’t want that to happen so I am committed to finding political solutions and I want to do that quite quickly.”

Jon Tonge, professor of politics at the University of Liverpool, said Mr Donaldson had “nothing to lose” by ramping up pressure over the protocol, given his party’s dramatic slump in opinion polls, pushing it behind Sinn Féin, the UUP and Traditional Unionist Voice.

“In terms of the politics of it, the protocol is the catalyst but the DUP is becoming increasingly disenchanted by Stormont more broadly,” he said.

“If you take away the DUP veto rights, via petitions of concern, the DUP with reduced numbers these days, if you can’t block, because Westminster legislates, things like same-sex marriage and abortion, and Irish language provisions to be introduced by Westminster this autumn, there is a section of the DUP saying what’s the point of Stormont anyway,” Prof Tonge told the BBC’s Sunday Politics.

“That’s the message Jeffrey Donaldson has been getting back on his listening tour [of Northern Ireland] that he has been on since he became leader.

“That’s a pretty bleak view. Once upon a time the DUP was quite wedded to Stormont, albeit on its own terms. It is far less wedded to Stormont now and the institutions and would be even less so if it does badly at the next election.”