DUP’s Donaldson sets new Brexit deadline as he threatens Stormont collapse
Arlene Foster says more needs to be done for Northern Ireland
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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson had set out a plan to withdraw ministers from Stormont at the start of November and collapse power-sharing if no major changes were made to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol. But speaking on Monday afternoon, the 58-year-old rowed back on his ultimatum and confirmed he would allow more time for officials from London and Brussels to negotiate.
The decision also came on the day a bus was hijacked and set on fire in the loyalist area of Newtownards.
The incident on Monday morning has been linked by some politicians to the opposition to Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.
Sir Jeffrey condemned the attack and knocked back any suggestion it has influenced his political stance.
He said: “There was never any justification for masked gunmen on the streets of Northern Ireland and there never will be.
“When I outlined DUP action on the protocol at the start of September, I indicated that action was needed within weeks. At that time the European Union was saying that fresh negotiations were impossible.
“Since then the EU has agreed to table fresh proposals and serious negotiations have reopened with the UK Government.
“No reasonable person could deny that this represents significant and positive progress. That progress was secured through political action and not violence.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol was created to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and protect the Good Friday Agreement.
The mechanism ties Belfast to the EU single market, while the rest of the UK is not, and unionists argue this has effectively divided the UK by placing a trade barrier down the Irish Sea.
The DUP has called on Northern Ireland to return to the UK internal market and the removal of the so-called Irish Sea border.
Brexit minister Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Marcos Sefcovic stepped up talks last month and are due to meet again on Friday.
Sir Jeffrey insisted he is willing to “give a little more time” for the discussions.
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He said: “It would be churlish in the face of that progress to now move precipitously in relation to what I have warned about if we don’t get the outcome that we need.
“Now, I’m prepared to give a little more time for those negotiations to reach a conclusion and that conclusion has to mean agreement on the removal of the Irish Sea border.
“If that doesn’t happen, I expect the Government, as the Prime Minister said last week, to take unilateral action. The Prime Minister has said that the conditions exist to trigger Article 16 and I expect that to happen. If these things don’t happen, then I will act. I’ve made that absolutely clear.
“My strategy remains as it has been. But, given the progress that we’re making towards the objectives that we want to achieve, I’m prepared to give a little more time to achieve those objectives.”
He added: “I think that we’re talking about weeks, that’s what I have said, and I expect real and decisive progress to be made.”
The EU has already put forward plans to remove up to 80 percent of checks on goods flowing into Northern Ireland.
Lord Frost has argued the proposals do not go far enough and has urged the bloc to look again at the UK’s Command Paper in July, which called for the oversight of the European Court of Justice to be removed.
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