Great Britain and Northern Ireland haulage costs have increased by 27% in the first year of NI Protocol, DUP leader says at campaign launch
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has declined to apologise for anything which the DUP has done over recent years, insisting that the problems with how Brexit unfolded were the fault of other parties.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as the party launched its Assembly election campaign, the DUP leader said that “Brexit is a national issue” and that his party had fought for Northern Ireland at Westminster by blocking Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s proposals until losing their position as kingmakers in the Commons.
The DUP’s campaign launch at a cinema in Dundonald today was attended by most of its 30 candidates — a reduction of eight on the number the party fielded in the 2017 Assembly election, but a number which Sir Jeffrey insisted meant that every one of them could win.
The DUP has had a torrid few years in which, despite having more influence over a UK Government than any other party in the history of Northern Ireland, it was unable to stop the Irish Sea border which makes it harder for many British firms to trade with Northern Ireland.
Polls show the DUP losing support — unsurprisingly because the party has spent much of the last year publicly tearing itself apart.
When asked if there was anything for which he wanted to apologise to voters, Sir Jeffrey declined to do so and instead blamed Boris Johnson for the NI Protocol.
“We have worked tirelessly since then to address the problems which have been created by the protocol and that’s why I have taken robust action to ensure that the government understands the strength of unionist opposition to this protocol,” he said.
“I think that the people who need to apologise for what they have done to Northern Ireland are the people who have imposed the protocol upon us, those who called for its rigorous implementation — those are the people who are responsible for the harm that is being done to Northern Ireland.”
When asked again if there was nothing for which he wanted to apologise, he replied: “Well, as I’ve said, we opposed the protocol, we opposed the EU Withdrawal Agreement; it is for those who supported the protocol…to explain how an Irish Sea border is good for Northern Ireland; my view is that it is deeply harmful to Northern Ireland and I think those who should be apologising for the harm it’s doing to our economy, for the way in which it has undermined political stability in Northern Ireland are those who called for its rigorous implementation.”
Earlier, the DUP leader had declined to rule out not taking up his seat in Stormont. There have been rumours that the DUP leader may not give up his Westminster seat and instead co-opt in a replacement within days of the election. When asked about this by RTE, Sir Jeffrey emphasised that “I want to return to Stormont and I want to lead the DUP Assembly team in Stormont” — but did not explicitly rule out choosing to remain in Westminster.
In a lengthy speech to party members and the media, Sir Jeffrey emphasised the importance of unionists voting to stop Sinn Fein becoming first minister, saying that “the DUP is the only party that can beat Sinn Fein”.
However, he also said: “I want to broaden and deepen support for Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom. I want us to build a better Northern Ireland not just for people who share our unionism but also for all of our people.”
Sir Jeffrey criticised Sinn Fein’s handling of the pandemic, telling the event: “Michelle O’Neill has spoken of the unity of purpose of the Executive during the Covid pandemic, but made no mention that within days of its outbreak in Northern Ireland she broke the unity of the Executive and attacked Robin Swann — or that she and her party colleagues were prepared to publicly break the guidelines she had helped set and then refused to make any meaningful apology for it.”
The DUP leader said that his emphasis on the NI Protocol did not mean that he was prioritising it above the cost of living crisis, but recognising that the protocol is contributing to rising prices and shrinking choice for consumers.
He said that haulage costs between Great Britain and Northern Ireland had soared by 27% in the first year of the protocol. He added: “The rigorous implementation of the protocol would devastate trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And if the retail easements, which were due to finish in April 2021, were to end it would have a devastating impact on supermarkets.”