Democratic Unionists Confirm Jeffrey Donaldson As New Leader
Northern Ireland’s largest political party has confirmed Westminster veteran Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as next leader, paving the way for a standoff with the UK government over post-Brexit trading conditions that threaten the collapse of decentralized institutions of the region.
Donaldson, 58, was the only candidate to enter the Democratic Unionist Party leadership race before the noon deadline Tuesday. The contest was sparked by the chaotic impeachment last week of Edwin Poots, who had been appointed 21 days earlier, following the ouster of Arlene Foster.
“The task ahead is great,” said Donaldson, vowing to “lead unionism into the second century” and appoint the Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs the region’s post-Brexit trade with the rest of the world. United Kingdom, as its most pressing problem.
“To this end, I will speak with the Prime Minister at the earliest opportunity to stress that it is unrealistic to expect stability when every union representative in decentralized institutions opposes the Northern Ireland protocol “the 58-year-old added.
The EU and the UK have agreed to a customs border in the Irish Sea to prevent goods from Britain from moving freely to Northern Ireland, which remains in the EU’s single market. Designed to avoid a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, the arrangement has infuriated trade unionists who see it as an affront to their identity as British citizens.
Donaldson warned on Monday that Stormont’s power-sharing government could be threatened if the UK does not take “decisive action” on the protocol, a tone louder than that of Poots, who was considering tackling the protocol in four years when the Stormont assembly can vote on parts of it.
A UK government official said Whitehall “wouldn’t read too much” Donaldson’s comments. “An early election [triggered by Stormont’s collapse] is not in anyone’s best interests, ”the source said, adding that Donaldson was seen as a“ more pragmatic figure ”than Poots, whose leadership imploded after big promises and catastrophic errors in judgment.
The source also downplayed Poots’ claims on Tuesday morning that he had secured promises of “significant changes” to the Northern Ireland protocol, in talks with the UK government last week that averted Stormont’s collapse.
Poots did not promise anything beyond what the UK had already publicly committed to, the official said. The UK said it was exploring all options to alleviate problems with the protocol, which could restrict Northern Ireland’s access to life-saving medicines and other products such as chilled processed meat once grace periods have expired.
Poots was kicked out after defying an overwhelming majority of DUP representatives in Stormont and Westminster and agreed to continue with the regional assembly on terms that included direct UK intervention to speed up pre-granted legislation protecting the Irish language.
“The last few weeks have been difficult for the party and mistakes have been made,” DUP chairman Lord Maurice Morrow said on Tuesday. “Now is the time to move forward in a spirit of humility and bearing in mind that our goal must be to serve the people we represent. “