Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has indicated he is not going to sit as an MLA in Stormont until the Northern Ireland Protocol has been resolved.
he DUP leader previously told the media he is committed to leading the DUP into political institutions at Stormont, however, questions had remained over whether he would stay on as an MP or take up his mandate to be an MLA for Lagan Valley.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening, Mr Donaldson confirmed he would be remaining in Westminster until the protocol had been dealt with.
“I am prepared to commit the remainder of my political career to going back to those institutions and working with my colleagues,” he said.
“I am prepared to leave this house I have been a member of for 25 years. I want to work for our people.
“I will not leave this house until this protocol issue is resolved. I will not leave this house until I can be sure our political institutions in Northern Ireland have a stable foundation.”
In response to his remarks, Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry tweeted: “Least surprising announcement this year. This was well telegraphed. Nevertheless a cynical move barely a week after standing for election to Assembly.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken added: “Goodness me…what a surprise…not.”
His comments come after Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill had previously accused Boris Johnson of “pandering” to the DUP and “dialing up the rhetoric” following a meeting with the Prime Minister.
Ms O’Neill made the comments to the media on Tuesday afternoon after a meeting with the PM, where Mr Donaldson was also present.
Ms O’Neill, who is entitled to become Northern Ireland’s first nationalist first minister after Thursday’s election, suggested the government are in “cahoots” with the DUP and said the unionist party should enter the Executive to “prioritise the health service”.
She also called on Mr Johnson to “stop playing a game of chicken”.
“Everybody prioritized health, but the DUP aren’t in the Executive today. I encourage them to do so, likewise I want to work with all the other parties,” she said.
Earlier, during a call with Taoiseach Micheal Martin and Mr Johnson, Downing Street described the situation around the Northern Ireland Protocol as “now very serious”.
A Downing Street account of the call between Mr Johnson and Mr Martin reported the pair had agreed on the vital importance of restoring the developed institutions in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.
The DUP said on Monday it will not nominate a deputy first minister unless concerns about the NI Protocol are resolved.
Power sharing requires the largest unionist and nationalist parties to share first and deputy first minister posts.
The EU has worked tirelessly to propose creative and durable solutions.
With political will and genuine commitment, joint solutions to legitimate practical issues raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland can be found within the Protocol.
— Maroš efčovič🇪🇺 (@MarosSefcovic) May 10, 2022
After the Queen’s Speech, Mr Donaldson called on the UK Government to “act quickly” and said it is “either the Protocol or power-sharing based upon a cross-community consensus, the Prime Minister cannot sustain both”.
Ms O’Neill added: “When I spoke to Boris Johnson this morning I made it very clear they need to stop playing a game of chicken.
“They are using the people here in the north as a power play in their game with the European Union. The honesty needs to be brought again to the conversation.
“The protocol is here to stay. Are their ways to smooth its implementation? Yes there are.
“That executive at Stormont needs to be sitting every day. The approach of the British Government in pandering to the DUP’s nonsense is not going to wash.”
In a tweet on Tuesday evening, EU Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic tweeted that the EU “has worked tirelessly to propose creative and durable solutions” around the protocol.
“With political will and genuine commitment, joint solutions to legitimate practical issues raised by people and businesses in Northern Ireland can be found within the Protocol,” he added.
In response, former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith – who negotiated the return to power sharing in Stormont in January 2020 – added: “I hope that the EU & UK will strain every sinew to ensure that the issues of political unionism are addressed whilst acknowledging the support from NI business & large parts of NI for many aspects of the current arrangements.”