Poots claims he got 'personal assurance' UK would win EU row over NI

Jeffrey Donaldson becomes new leader of the DUP and immediately warns Boris Johnson to ‘step up’ efforts to end EU trade row over Northern Ireland saying ‘It is not realistic to expect stability’ until ‘flawed’ protocol is removed

  • Mr Poots predicted there would be a ‘significant victory’ on the protocol in July
  • He was forced to announce his resignation last week after internal party revolt
  • Party preparing to party unveil MP Jeffrey Donaldson as leader this afternoon

Jeffrey Donaldson was installed as the new Democratic Unionist Party leader today – and immediately sent out a warning to Boris Johnson over post-Brexit trade rules that have led to unrest in Ulster.

Mr Donaldson ran unopposed to replace Edwin Poots, who was forced out last week after less than three weeks in the job.

The veteran Westminster MP immediately demanded Mr Johnson’s government and Brussels ‘step up’ efforts to find an alternative to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

They are are locked in a dispute over the implementation of the protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland.

Under the terms of the deal, deliveries of chilled meats – including sausages and burgers – could be effectively banned from crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland at the end of the month.

Unionists are opposed to the protocol and have repeatedly called for it to be scrapped.

After being announced as the next DUP leader today, Mr Donaldson said: I will be speaking with the Prime Minister at the earliest opportunity to emphasise that it is not realistic to expect stability when every unionist representative in the devolved institutions opposes the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Government and those who claim to be protectors of peace and stability, must step up and deal with the Protocol in a manner which respects the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.

‘I will play my part but the Government and Brussels must step up and recognise the flaws of the Protocol and how it was foisted upon Northern Ireland.’

Earlier outgoing leader Mr Poots has said that he has received a personal assurance from the UK Government that significant changes will be made to the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

Mr Donaldson ran unopposed to replace Edwin Poots, who was forced out last week after less than three weeks in the job. 

Mr Poots, who was forced to announce his resignation as leader last week following an internal party revolt, predicted there would be a ‘significant victory’ on the protocol in July.

Brexit minister Lord Frost continued his hardline position over forcing changes to the agreement today, telling MPs in London it was ‘hard to see’ how the Northern Ireland Protocol could be sustainable in its current form.

Mr Poots, who was forced to announce his resignation as leader last week following an internal party revolt, predicted there would be a ‘significant victory’ on the protocol in July. 

In an eve-of departure interview with the BBC, Mr Poots said: ‘I have received assurances that there will be changes to the protocol and that that will be very significant, that the UK Government are not going to tolerate how things are and how the EU have conducted themselves since the protocol.’

When asked if he had received the assurances personally, Mr Poots said: ‘Yes.’

He added: ‘We are looking to these changes happening in July, most likely early July.

‘We believe that there is a significant victory to be won on the protocol. I will hand over at the end of June (to the new DUP leader) and hopefully most of the work will actually be achieved by that stage and we can make those gains.’

His claim is likely to ruffle feathers, with the Government currently locked in talks with the EU over the protocol, and no certainties it will win concessions, by July or afterwards. 

Brexit minister Lord Frost continued his hardline position over forcing changes to the agreement today, telling MPs in London it was ‘hard to see’ how the Northern Ireland Protocol could be sustainable in its current form.

Responding to Mr Poots’ claim he told the Foreign Affairs Committee: ‘I can’t comment on private conversations and accounts of them. But we haven’t made a secret of the fact that we find it hard to see how, as currently operated, important elements of the Protocol are sustainable.

‘I don’t think that’s a new judgment. We have also said that we are considering all our options, and we are doing so.

‘There is a real world timetable to things that needs to be taken into account when we do that.

‘That’s where we are at the moment, we are actively considering the options to deal with a situation that is hard to see as sustainable.’

When asked what was the nature of the changes he had been promised, Mr Poots said: ‘We haven’t got detail but fundamentally for me the issues that really need to be resolved are the issues around the constitution because UK lawyers argued that the Act of Union was seceded by the Withdrawal Act.

‘I want a very clear statement from the UK Government that that is not the case. The democratic deficit, nowhere else in the world are laws being made by 25 or 26 other countries for a country who has no say in those laws.

‘How ridiculous is that, that people are signing up to an agreement which doesn’t have democracy contained in it? And then we have all of the trading issues of course, which have been highlighted over and over again. My ultimate desire is that the protocol goes in its entirety.

‘We have been promised there will be a significant win on the protocol, that is what the Secretary of State (Brandon Lewis) is indicating at this stage.’

In response, Sinn Fein north Belfast MP John Finucane said Mr Poots had not provided any detail of the proposed changes he had been promised.

‘I would be very reluctant to take what Edwin Poots has said today, I think I would want to see the detail because ultimately these are conversations between the British Government and the European Union.

‘It is not within the Secretary of State’s gift as to what he does with the protocol – it is an agreement his Government entered into with the European Union.’

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