Northern Ireland news

DUP gathering will deal with ‘routine business' – Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson speak to the media at Parliament Buildings in Stormont following a meeting with shadow secretary of state Hilary Benn (Rebecca Black/PA)
Rebecca Black, PA

A DUP gathering later this week will deal with “routine business”, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has insisted.

The party is due to meet in Lurgan, Co Armagh, on Thursday.

It comes as the DUP is continuing its boycott of Stormont in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements, which it argues are undermining Northern Ireland’s position within the UK.

Sir Jeffrey said talks are continuing with the UK Government, adding he is “not planning for failure” and wants to find a solution to allow his party to return to taking part in the powersharing government at Stormont.

An anti-Northern Ireland Protocol sign close to Larne Port (Liam McBurney/PA)

The DUP withdrew first minister Paul Givan in February 2022 in protest at the internal UK trade barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

The UK and EU agreed the Windsor Framework earlier this year in an attempt to address unionist concerns, however the DUP says it does not sufficiently address its concerns.

The DUP has indicated it will not return to the Stormont Assembly until the UK Government provides further assurances, by way of legislation, over Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.

One of the main parts of the framework – the green/red lane system for the movement of goods – became operational at Northern Ireland ports on Sunday.

Speaking at Parliament Buildings on Tuesday following a meeting with shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Hilary Benn, Sir Jeffrey insisted that the meeting of his party on Thursday is a “routine meeting planned in advance”.

“It will be dealing with routine party business,” he said.

“Our discussions with the Government are ongoing. There remain issues that need to be resolved. We will continue that engagement until we get to an outcome.

“We are not yet in the space where we have an outcome, where we have got a solution to the very real problems that have been created by the Northern Ireland Protocol, that are harming our economy and that fail to respect our place within the United Kingdom and its internal market.”

Sir Jeffrey said they have “made some progress” in discussions with the Government, but said there is “further to go if we are to get to a place where we believe we have got what we need to both respect and protect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom and its internal market, and we’ll keep working at that until we get that solution”.

The DUP leader went on to say he is “not planning for failure”.

“Every negotiation has a beginning and an end, and we will no doubt reach a moment where both sides will recognise that we have taken this as far as we can. We’re not there yet, and that’s why we’re continuing to engage with the Government on these issues,” he said.

“I want to find a solution, I’m not planning for failure, I’m planning to get this done because we want to see Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom properly protected and respected in UK law, and we want to see a functioning Stormont.

“As to who might form the next government, that is a matter for the electorate of the United Kingdom.

“Our strategy is not based on what may or may not happen in a year’s time, our strategy is based on getting this sorted out. That’s what we embarked upon in February 2022 when we took the decision that we took because we were not being listened to.

“The concerns of unionists were not being addressed, and what we want is for those concerns to be addressed by the current Government.”