The war in Ukraine must not ‘freeze’ the UK government’s action on Northern Ireland’s Brexit protocol, the DUP leader has warned.
Jeffrey Donaldson has spoken out amid suggestions the UK government may be reluctant to deepen the dispute with the European Union (EU) over contentious Irish Sea trade barriers due to its neighbor’s invasion by Russia.
Mr Donaldson also insisted the DUP will continue to attend anti-protocol rallies organized by loyalists in Northern Ireland, despite senior MP Sammy Wilson being booed at an event in Co Armagh last month.
Ongoing talks between the UK and the EU on ways to reduce the bureaucracy created by the protocol continue, although commitments are expected to be more discreet in the coming months, London and Brussels being aware of a campaign potentially turbulent election in Northern Ireland ahead of May’s Assembly poll.
Mr Donaldson was asked if he expected to see the UK government focus on protocol being diverted due to the war.
He said: “I want to find solutions. People here in Northern Ireland are suffering because of the protocol. I could give many examples of the protocol’s impact on individuals, families and businesses across Northern Ireland.
“Of course, the situation in Ukraine is vitally important, but that doesn’t mean the UK government freezes, the UK government stops making decisions.
“I hope to meet the Deputy Prime Minister (Dominic Raab) early next week, who has requested a meeting to discuss these issues, and I will put to him that, of course, we must do everything possible to support Ukraine. , to support the people of Ukraine, but we also have a duty to support our own people and in Northern Ireland protocol remains an issue, and it needs to be resolved.
The protocol created new economic barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Accepted by the UK and the EU to ensure that the Irish land border is not hardened after Brexit, it has instead moved regulatory and customs controls to the Irish Sea, with Northern Ireland remaining in the single market EU goods. The region also applies the EU customs code in its ports.
Unionists and loyalists say the arrangements undermined UK sovereignty and demanded the UK trigger the protocol’s Article 16 mechanism to suspend its trade arrangements.
Speaking to the media in Bessbrook, Co Armagh, on Friday, the DUP leader was asked about abuse directed at his party colleague, Mr Wilson, at an anti-protocol rally in Markethill, Co Armagh, the month last.
The episode unfolded as the DUP continues to face criticism from other trade unionists for its handling of the protocol issue.
Mr Donaldson said the incident was ‘orchestrated’ and hurt the campaign against post-Brexit trade deals.
He insisted he was not afraid to attend future rallies.
“I’ll be at Crossgar next Friday night,” he said. “I have invitations to attend rallies in Ballymoney, Castlederg and Lurgan and more invitations are coming in.
“I have never been afraid to go talk to people and listen to people, I will continue to do so.
“I want to see unity at these rallies. I want to see unionism united in opposing protocol. I think that’s the best message that can be sent.
Video: Foreign ministers meet to discuss Ukraine,…
“I think if you look at what happened in Markethill it hurt the unionist cause, it damaged and harmed our campaign against protocol and I hope the people who did this now realize the harm what they did in smashing unionists’ united opposition to protocol, and I hope they reflect on this and that those responsible for orchestrating what we saw at Markethill will recognize that it was counterproductive .
“It backfired, it hurt unionism, it hurt our cause to oppose protocol, and I certainly hope we don’t see a repeat of that in the future.
“Trade unionism must be united on this point.”