Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has told the House of Commons that he will not take his seat in the Stormont Assembly until reforms are made to the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol was designed by Brussels and the British Government to prevent a trade border on the island of Ireland after the United Kingdom left the EU. It is, however, loathed by unionists who resent that Northern Ireland remains subject to certain EU laws and that goods from Great Britain have to be checked by customs officials.
The DUP fought the Assembly election on an anti-protocol platform but lost three seats and came second behind Sinn Féin. However, they remain the largest unionist party in the Assembly and no Executive can be formed until they choose to nominate ministers.
Sir Jeffrey was elected an MLA for Lagan Valley last week and under rules to prevent ‘double jobbing’ is obliged to resign from Westminster. Now he has announced he will refuse to take his Assembly seat and will remain an MP for the time being.
“I am prepared to commit the remainder of my political career to going back to those institutions and working with my colleagues,” he told the House of Commons.
“I am prepared to leave this house I have been a member of for 25 years. I want to work for our people.
“I will not leave this house until this protocol issue is resolved. I will not leave this house until I can be sure our political institutions in Northern Ireland have a stable foundation.”
London and Brussels are currently revising aspects of the protocol but neither the DUP nor the British Government are satisfied with progress made on the issue thus far.
It was rumoured that the Government would introduce legislation invoking Article 16 to override aspects of the protocol in the Queen’s Speech. However, no such bill was mentioned and EU and British civil servants will continue their negotiations into the foreseeable future.
Main image: Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaking to the House of Commons, London. Picture by: PA.