DUP threatens to collapse Stormont 'within weeks' in protest over Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol

By Brendan Hughes & David Young & Rebecca Black

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has threatened to collapse the Stormont Executive "within weeks" if changes are not made to Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol.

He also announced the DUP will immediately begin a boycott of north-south institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement.

Sir Jeffrey said his party's ministers would resign rather than implement Irish Sea border checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain.

The warning was a ramping up of the DUP's opposition to the post-Brexit trade arrangements which have angered unionists.

It came on the same day as European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic began a two-day visit to Northern Ireland.

In a keynote address in Belfast, Sir Jeffrey said if protocol issues remain then the "position in office of DUP ministers would become untenable".

He said: "If the choice is ultimately between remaining in office or implementing the protocol in its present form then the only option, the only option for any unionist minister would be to cease to hold such office."

Sir Jeffrey added: "Within weeks it will become clear if there is a basis for the Assembly and Executive to continue in this current mandate, and I want that to happen.

"But, equally, we will also need to consider whether there is a need for an Assembly election to refresh our mandate if action is not taken to address and resolve the issues related to the protocol and its impact, its damaging impact on Northern Ireland each and every day."

The protocol was agreed between the UK and EU to maintain an open land border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

Under the arrangement, Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods and continues to apply EU customs rules at its ports.

But this has brought additional checks and red tape on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Sir Jeffrey set out a four-point plan for escalating the DUP's opposition to the protocol:

  1. An immediate withdrawal from north-south political structures, but ensuring "health-related matters continue to be addressed on a cooperative basis".
  2. Ministers will seek to block additional checks at the ports when ongoing grace periods end, using their votes at the Executive to "frustrate any such additional checks, now or in the future".
  3. The DUP is examining the legality of the current checks and whether they should have required Executive approval.
  4. The party will seek to frustrate and prevent "adherence of Northern Ireland to EU law as it evolves".

Sir Jeffrey said that since Brexit, north-south and east-west political relationships are "more important than ever".

"But they cannot operate in isolation or while strand three (of the Good Friday Agreement), the east-west relationship, has been undermined," he said.

"There can be no dispute that the fabric of strand three has been fundamentally undermined by the protocol.

"In such circumstances unionists cannot be expected to operate strand two (north-south relations) as though nothing had changed."

Sir Jeffrey also warned that UK government plans to legislate for Irish language provisions at Westminster would further undermine devolution.

The British government agreed to the Sinn Féin demand in the summer when the party threatened not to re-enter power-sharing administration after failing to secure a firm timetable from the DUP on implementing the commitment from the 2020 'New Decade, New Approach' deal that restored devolution.

Sir Jeffrey said: "The proper place for such legislation is the Northern Ireland Assembly where it can receive the proper scrutiny and a balanced approach.

"Such a usurpation of the Assembly's powers, without the consent of the Assembly, would be difficult at any time.

"But undermining the operation of strand one (of the Good Friday Agreement) as well as strand three at the same time would further undermine confidence in devolution and the operation of the Assembly from an already low base.

"The situation is further exacerbated when the New Decade, New Approach Deal is implemented on a one-sided basis and in the absence of the Government delivering on the NDNA commitment to ensure that Northern Ireland remains an integral part of the UK internal market.

"For unionists such a situation is both intolerable and unsustainable."

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