DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said an early Stormont election will be called if the Government does not act over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Sir Jeffrey was speaking after pressing the Prime Minister over the Brexit arrangements in the House of Commons.
He put to Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons that the conditions for invoking a get-out clause of the protocol have “already been met” and the Government should consider using it if “rapid progress” isn’t made in talks with the EU.
“Does the Prime Minister accept that the conditions now exist to trigger Article 16 of the protocol in the event that the current negotiations with the EU fail to arrive at an acceptable outcome?” he asked.
Mr Johnson responded saying: “He is completely right, I am sad to say, in what he says”.
The Prime Minister went on to say his Government is “working hard to secure an agreement by negotiation” but they “need some real progress”.
“If we can’t see progress – as we have been saying now for some months – if we can’t see rapid progress in the way that we spelled out in our command paper then I think it is clear to everybody that the conditions for invoking Article 16 have already been met,” he said.
Article 16 allows the EU or the UK to take “unilateral” action in Northern Ireland, in the event of ‘serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist, or to diversion of trade’.
Speaking afterwards, Sir Jeffrey welcomed the statement by Mr Johnson but said if Government does not act, he will have no option but to call an early Stormont Assembly election.
He said the protocol is costing Northern Ireland “£850m per year”, as well as “polluting politics, undermining the Union and is diverting trade within the United Kingdom”.
He said in the last month he had warned both London and Brussels that the Stormont Assembly “could not be sustained if the Government continued to stand by the protocol and unionist ministers are forced to implement measures harmful to our place in the UK”.
“I am glad that the Government has stepped up and our pressure has brought Brussels back to the table. That is progress from the days of ‘no, nay, never’ to changes. But endless negotiations without product will not suffice.
“It is welcome that the Prime Minister wants to see rapid progress and recognises that the conditions to trigger Article 16 have already been met.
“If Brussels is not prepared the make the kind of changes envisaged in the July Command Paper, then it is time for the Government to act unilaterally and protect this part of the United Kingdom in line duty it’s NDNA (New Decade New Approach deal) commitment.
“If the Government fails to act, then I will have no option but ask the people of Northern Ireland to make their voice heard at the ballot box.”