United Kingdom

New DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson immediately issues warning to Boris Johnson over EU trade row

Jeffrey Donaldson was installed as the new Democratic Unionist Party leader today - and immediately sent out a warning to Boris Johnson over post-Brexit trade rules that have led to unrest in Ulster.

Sir Jeffrey ran unopposed to replace Edwin Poots, who was forced out last week after less than three weeks in the job.

The veteran Westminster MP immediately demanded Mr Johnson's government and Brussels 'step up' efforts to find an alternative to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

They are are locked in a dispute over the implementation of the protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland.

Under the terms of the deal, deliveries of chilled meats - including sausages and burgers - could be effectively banned from crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland at the end of the month.

Unionists are opposed to the protocol and have repeatedly called for it to be scrapped.

After being announced as the next DUP leader today, Sir Jeffrey said: I will be speaking with the Prime Minister at the earliest opportunity to emphasise that it is not realistic to expect stability when every unionist representative in the devolved institutions opposes the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Government and those who claim to be protectors of peace and stability, must step up and deal with the Protocol in a manner which respects the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.

'I will play my part but the Government and Brussels must step up and recognise the flaws of the Protocol and how it was foisted upon Northern Ireland.'

Earlier outgoing leader Mr Poots has said that he has received a personal assurance from the UK Government that significant changes will be made to the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

Mr Donaldson ran unopposed to replace Edwin Poots, who was forced out last week after less than three weeks in the job. 

Mr Poots, who was forced to announce his resignation as leader last week following an internal party revolt, predicted there would be a 'significant victory' on the protocol in July.

Brexit minister Lord Frost continued his hardline position over forcing changes to the agreement today, telling MPs in London it was 'hard to see' how the Northern Ireland Protocol could be sustainable in its current form.

Northern Ireland political veteran who faces battle to reunite party

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is a political veteran and holds the title of the longest-serving MP in Northern Ireland, having been walking the corridors of Westminster since 1997.

The 58-year-old, who was born in Kilkeel in Co Down, started out with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which he joined at a young age.

He has previously spoken about the first time the Troubles affected his family - the murder of his cousin Samuel Donaldson, an RUC constable, who was the first police officer to be blown up by the IRA in the conflict.

It was this event that influenced Sir Jeffrey's decision to enter political life.

At the age of 16, he followed his family tradition by becoming a member of the Orange Order, and later followed in the footsteps of his late father Jim by joining the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

The former Ulster Unionist is seen as a comparative moderate whose political outlook is broadly in line with Mrs Foster's.

In 1985, aged 22, he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, becoming the youngest person to win a seat at Stormont.

His relationship with former UUP leader David Trimble began to crumble over the Good Friday Agreement.

Sir Jeffrey led a walkout of the 1998 peace talks after opposing the early release of republican and loyalist prisoners.

He left the party along with Mrs Foster and Norah Beare and joined the DUP in January 2004.

There is a sense that the traditional wing of the DUP never quite trusted Mrs Foster due to her UUP roots, and Sir Jeffrey could face a similar challenge if he is to succeed her.

In 2009, Sir Jeffrey apologised for claiming for pay-to-view films on his parliamentary expenses during hotel stays.

He repaid the £555 and said he was wrong to submit the claims.

While the cost of the films was in the highest price category, Sir Jeffrey denied that the content he watched was of an adult nature.

Asked what he had been watching, Sir Jeffrey said the films included the Star Wars trilogy and The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.

He was recognised by the Queen in her 2016 Birthday Honours and was given a knighthood.

Mr Poots, who was forced to announce his resignation as leader last week following an internal party revolt, predicted there would be a 'significant victory' on the protocol in July. 

In an eve-of departure interview with the BBC, Mr Poots said: 'I have received assurances that there will be changes to the protocol and that that will be very significant, that the UK Government are not going to tolerate how things are and how the EU have conducted themselves since the protocol.'

When asked if he had received the assurances personally, Mr Poots said: 'Yes.'

He added: 'We are looking to these changes happening in July, most likely early July.

'We believe that there is a significant victory to be won on the protocol. I will hand over at the end of June (to the new DUP leader) and hopefully most of the work will actually be achieved by that stage and we can make those gains.'

His claim is likely to ruffle feathers, with the Government currently locked in talks with the EU over the protocol, and no certainties it will win concessions, by July or afterwards.  

Brexit minister Lord Frost continued his hardline position over forcing changes to the agreement today, telling MPs in London it was 'hard to see' how the Northern Ireland Protocol could be sustainable in its current form.

Responding to Mr Poots' claim he told the Foreign Affairs Committee: 'I can't comment on private conversations and accounts of them. But we haven't made a secret of the fact that we find it hard to see how, as currently operated, important elements of the Protocol are sustainable.

'I don't think that's a new judgment. We have also said that we are considering all our options, and we are doing so.

'There is a real world timetable to things that needs to be taken into account when we do that.

'That's where we are at the moment, we are actively considering the options to deal with a situation that is hard to see as sustainable.' 

When asked what was the nature of the changes he had been promised, Mr Poots said: 'We haven't got detail but fundamentally for me the issues that really need to be resolved are the issues around the constitution because UK lawyers argued that the Act of Union was seceded by the Withdrawal Act.

'I want a very clear statement from the UK Government that that is not the case. The democratic deficit, nowhere else in the world are laws being made by 25 or 26 other countries for a country who has no say in those laws.

'How ridiculous is that, that people are signing up to an agreement which doesn't have democracy contained in it? And then we have all of the trading issues of course, which have been highlighted over and over again. My ultimate desire is that the protocol goes in its entirety.

'We have been promised there will be a significant win on the protocol, that is what the Secretary of State (Brandon Lewis) is indicating at this stage.'

In response, Sinn Fein north Belfast MP John Finucane said Mr Poots had not provided any detail of the proposed changes he had been promised.

'I would be very reluctant to take what Edwin Poots has said today, I think I would want to see the detail because ultimately these are conversations between the British Government and the European Union.

'It is not within the Secretary of State's gift as to what he does with the protocol - it is an agreement his Government entered into with the European Union.'

It will fall to Sir Jeffrey to pick up the pieces of the damaged party, and he will also have to deal with many of the same challenges which faced his predecessor.

As well as Brexit, the party was infuriated by the acceptance of the deal over Irish language laws.

He will also have to unite a party still reeling from the ousting of Mrs Foster as well as the resignation of Mr Poots, ahead of Stormont elections currently scheduled for next year.

Sir Jeffrey has also previously indicated that if he became party leader, he would run in the Assembly elections and take up the first minister position at Stormont. 

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