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Sir Jeffrey: Loss of Lord Frost has ‘harmed Government’s position’ on NI Protocol discussions with EU

The DUP leader said Boris Johnson needs to ‘get to grip’ with the issue following Brexit Minister’s resignation 


Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has warned that the Government has “harmed its position” in Protocol discussions with the EU following the resignation of Brexit Minister Lord Frost.

The DUP leader insisted Prime Minister Boris Johnston “needs to get to grips” with the contentious issue.

"He needs to recognise that this is a priority issue, along with the other priority issues he is dealing with at the moment,” he explained.

Sir Jeffrey was speaking on Monday’s Good Morning Ulster programme after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was announced as Lord Frost’s replacement.

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Lord Frost – the UK’s chief negotiator resigned with "immediate effect" on Saturday night, having previously agreed with the Prime Minister he would leave his job in January.

The Lagan Valley MP revealed he spoke to Lord Frost on Friday but he was not aware of the Brexit Minister’s intention to resign at the weekend or in the early new year as reported.

Sir Jeffrey said that while he welcomed the appointment of Liz Truss, he warned that “we need to see a much sharper focus” on getting the Protocol resolved.

Last week announced that the UK Government is to delay new controls on goods moving from the island of Ireland to Great Britain while negotiations with Brussels on the Northern Ireland Protocol continue.

Unionists have called for a removal of the trade barrier down the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK created under the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The checks on incoming goods from the European Union – covering mainly food and agricultural products – are due to come into force on January 1, bringing post-Brexit customs arrangements with the bloc in line with those with the rest of world.

"Every day that this Protocol remains in place, it is harming the economy of Northern Ireland,” said Sir Jeffrey.

"And it’s not just our economy, it is not just trade. We’re talking about a pandemic, it is harming our access to medicines.”

The EU has subsequently agreed to a bespoke arrangement in relation to medicines.

He said he had been “reasonable” in relation to his ultimatum that he would suspend Stormont in order to ensure the removal of the Protocol.

Asked if he would be making the same threat to Liz Truss, Sir Jeffrey said: “To be clear that’s not what I want to happen.

"I want the Government to step up to the mark and do what they said six months ago when they published their command paper.

"Back then, in July the Government accepted the conditions had been met to trigger Article 16.”

He stressed that he believed that he Government had reached a “position where it has to call it” in relation to taking unilateral action if no progress is made.

Asked if it was “responsible” to carry out such action when the worst-case scenario has suggested the peak of Omicron will be mid-January, he stressed measures will be put in place to deal with the pandemic.

"We cannot sustain a situation where we still have problems accessing medicines… and I believe as a responsible leader I am right to call this out,” said the MP.

"When people living in this part of the United Kingdom see major barriers which prevent them having access to medicines in a pandemic, I think  it is the right thing to say to the Government, ‘you need to fix this’ and bring this to a head.”

Meanwhile, the TUV says Sir Jeffrey’s new “early in the year” deadline for action to be taken on the Protocol “simply underscores the weakness of his leadership of unionism to date”.

"Why would anyone take this seriously given that his deadline of action by the end of October passed without action?” said the party’s East Antrim candidate Norman Boyd.

"Making a political threat and then failing to follow it through means that the latest warning will be dismissed by Westminister and the EU.”

He added: “The Government clearly doesn't take the DUP threats seriously. The DUP need to remember that the Unionist electorate have a similar view of their threats and are increasingly of a mind to replace them with Unionists who will say what they mean and mean what they say when it comes to the Sea Border.”

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