Jeffrey Donaldson to make statement following crunch meeting of DUP party executive on potential deal to return to Stormont

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has been briefing members of the DUP’s party executive at the Larchfield Estate

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leaving his party’s HQ at Dundela
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson leaving his party’s HQ on Monday ahead of the meeting at Larchfield Estate. PICTURE: PA (Liam McBurney/PA)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is to make a statement following Monday’s meeting of his party’s executive over British government proposals aimed at ending Stormont’s power-sharing impasse.

Sir Jeffrey arrived at the Larchfield estate near Lisburn shortly before 7.20pm for the short-notice gathering of the DUP’s 130-strong executive.

Around 50 protesters assembled at the gates of the venue, many carrying posters and banners warning against a DUP “sellout”.

Some shouted at DUP members as they drove into the grounds of the venue.

Protesters outside Larchfield Estate where the DUP are holding a private party meeting. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA
Stormont Assembly Protesters outside Larchfield Estate where the DUP are holding a private party meeting. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA (Liam McBurney/PA)

Efforts by the DUP hierarchy to keep details of the meeting secret appeared seriously undermined when loyalist activist Jamie Bryson posted on X, formerly Twitter, what he said were live updates from the confidential briefing – posts that included details of apparent attempts to find out who was leaking the information to Mr Bryson.

BBC NI reported that it understood the DUP’s party officers have already made a decision on the proposed deal, and that tonight’s meeting was to inform executive measures of their decision.

However, in an X post, Mr Bryson claimed this was not the case, and said the party executive would make a “collective decision” upon being briefed.

The DUP has been using a veto power to block Stormont’s devolved institutions for two years in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements which have created trade barriers between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Sir Jeffrey was driven to the Larchfield estate to meet the DUP executive
Sir Jeffrey was driven to the Larchfield estate on Monday. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY (Liam McBurney/PA)

It has been involved in protracted talks with the Government aimed at securing concessions on the arrangements that would address its concerns around trade and sovereignty.

The DUP appears to be approaching a final call on the Government’s proposed measures.

Before the executive meeting, the DUP leader was at the party’s headquarters at Dundela House in Belfast, where a number of his MPs and peers were in attendance.

He declined to comment to waiting reporters as he left to head to the Larchfield estate.

Earlier in the day, he met party MLAs at Stormont.

If Sir Jeffrey presses for acceptance of the Government’s proposals and a Stormont return, he is expected to face stiff opposition from some unionists inside and outside his party.

They believe the boycott should only end once all economic barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, and the subsequent Windsor Framework, are removed.

While the deal being offered by the Government will seek to reduce red tape and offer additional measures aimed at strengthening GB-NI ties, they will not result in the axing of the EU and the UK’s jointly agreed protocol and framework.

Last week, in an impassioned speech at Westminster, Sir Jeffrey said he had received threats amid the speculation over an impending deal. The DUP has reported the incidents to the police.

Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin said he hoped to see the return of the powersharing institutions, but added that he wanted to give the DUP space to hold the meeting and reach a decision.

He said: “I respect the fact that they are meeting and having internal discussions; they’ve had discussions with UK Government on an ongoing basis for the last number of months and so we all know what’s involved and we all know the details here.

“So it’s really a matter for the DUP to meet. I want to give them the space now to have their meeting.”

DUP peer and former Stormont speaker Lord Hay said Monday evening’s meeting is to “update grassroot members by the party leader of where we’re at with the talks with the Government”.

He criticised unionists who he said were briefing against the party.

He told the BBC: “The real traitors within unionism are people who continually brief against the party, even within the party, and all they’re doing is damaging unionism for now and the future.”

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy accused the DUP of “internal party navel-gazing” while public services in Northern Ireland have been facing “enormous challenges” during the time the powersharing institutions have been suspended.

Meanwhile, one of those protesting outside the DUP party executive meeting is Mid and East Antrim independent unionist councillor David Clarke, who quit the DUP earlier this month after claiming he had been subjected to bullying.

He said he was taking part in the demonstration to send the “strongest message possible” to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to stand firm and resist the Government deal.

David Clarke has quit the DUP
Former DUP member and independent councillor David Clarke.

“There can be no EU law in this part of the United Kingdom and there can be no EU Irish Sea border,” he said.

“He (Sir Jeffrey) has made commitments and promises to his electorate and any betrayal of that will be a travesty for unionism because it will be accepting that never again will Northern Ireland be a full and integral part of this United Kingdom and I think he should think long and hard before he jumps in and gives in to the pressure supplied by the British government by their game of blackmail and bribery.”

Mr Clarke added: “He needs to remember who put him and his party in the place that they’re in and he needs to honour his mandate and he needs to stand firm and honour the commitments that were made because anything else would be a sellout, no matter what he tries to say.”