UUP decline to back DUP protest plan over Northern Ireland Protocol

Northern Ireland’s second largest unionist party will not follow a DUP threat to pull its ministers from Stormont over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said his ministers will resign if changes to the protocol are not delivered.

Sir Jeffrey also announced his party’s immediate withdrawal from cross-border political institutions established on the island of Ireland under the Good Friday peace agreement.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson makes a key note speech on the Northern Ireland Protocol to senior party members at the La Mon hotel in east Belfast (Peter Morrison/PA)

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said his party is also opposed to the protocol, but said he wanted to provide “pragmatic solutions and engagement”.

“While the DUP will provide threats leading to instability and further harming our people here in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I certainly won’t be asking my party to withdraw from the Executive when we are still dealing with a Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences on a health service which is facing challenges on an unprecedented scale.

“We simply cannot afford to have the Stormont institutions collapse and people, not least those hundreds of thousands on waiting lists, won’t thank us for it.

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“We will engage constructively and put forward practical solutions as we seek to replace the protocol.

“We continue to lobby rather than threaten.

“Unionism needs to show confidence in its own abilities.

“Now is not the time to retreat to the trenches.

“The UK Government’s Command Paper provides a potential pathway out of the protocol mess and unionism should be using its influence within the democratic structures to hold the Government to account for delivering on it.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson arrives ahead of a key note speech on the Northern Ireland Protocol to senior party members at the La Mon hotel in east Belfast (Peter Morrison/PA)

Meanwhile TUV leader Jim Allister described “fine words” from Sir Jeffrey, but said “it is actions that count”.

“Presenting the Prime Minister with the stark choice of saving the protocol or saving the Stormont institutions is a long-proclaimed TUV strategy, built on the realisation that if the price of Stormont is implementing the union-dismantling protocol then Stormont is unsustainable for any unionist who puts the union first,” he said.

“Likewise operating north-southery while our east-west links are trashed is utter folly.

“The down payment on Unionist intent and determination should be the immediate ending of all Daera checks.

“The protocol, which the High Court says has already repealed the foundation of the economic United Kingdom, is a vehicle to destroy the union, having already delivered us into a foreign economic zone and subjected us to foreign laws.

“Hence, it is beyond redemption.

“It must go.

“Mere tinkering is not an option, nor is repackaging it as something capable of being controlled through new Belfast Agreement institutions, such aids, not inhibits the protocol and its building of the stepping stone of an all-Ireland economy.”

The Loyalist Communities Council welcomed the measures outlined by Sir Jeffrey.

“The LCC hopes that HM Government and the European Commission will now realise the extent to which the Protocol is harming Northern Ireland and imperilling our peace process,” the group said in a statement.

“If the Irish Sea border is not now rapidly abandoned all of Unionism will expect the DUP to honour the commitments made today.”