Northern Ireland

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson suspended from trade envoy roles

The former DUP leader was appointed to the unpaid, voluntary roles by Boris Johnson

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has resigned
Former DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been suspended from his British government trade envoy roles in the wake of charges for historical offences.

The Department of Business and Trade has confirmed that the Lagan Valley MP, who resigned as DUP leader, is no longer acting as envoy to Egypt and Cameroon.

He was appointed to the posts by then prime minister Boris Johnson in August 2021, soon after succeeding Edwin Poots as DUP leader.

Other appointees at the time to the 60 unpaid, voluntary roles included Ian Botham, Baroness Kate Hoey and former Northern Ireland Office minister Conor Burns.

At the time of writing, Sir Jeffrey also remains an MP, despite resigning as DUP leader on foot of the charges for historical offences.

Under a House of Commons resolution dating from the 17th century, MPs cannot directly resign their seat.

One-fifth of Sinn Féin voters believe the party should take its seats at Westminster
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has yet to resign his Westminster seat

Instead, an MP wishing to step down from their seat will be appointed to one of two offices of the crown – namely crown steward and bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds or crown steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

The process, which is the responsibility of the Treasury, is often described as “taking the Chiltern Hundreds”.

A Treasury spokesperson told The Irish News on Friday that: “Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has not applied for an office of the crown.”

The controversy surrounding Sir Jeffrey is presenting difficulties for the DUP in terms of defending the Lagan Valley Westminster seat, Slugger O’Toole deputy editor David McCann told The Irish News.

He said that potentially the seat was the former DUP leader’s “for as long as this parliament continues”.

“The DUP could not, even if they wanted to, force a resignation, as a party this is out of their hands and they have gone as far as they can go under the rules,” he said.

“The bigger issue for the party is who do they put forward for the next election.”

Mr McCann said that while ostensibly Lagan Valley looked relatively safe, circumstances could see the seat change hands.

“On paper Lagan Valley has a 16 point margin for the DUP, but Alliance will be mounting a strong challenge,” he said.

“Both sitting DUP MLAs are in the executive – Emma Little-Pengelly and Paul Givan – which could mean neither are likely to step forward for the seat.

“That would leave a lower profile candidate to go up against Sorcha Eastwood, who has been campaigning for this seat since 2019.”