The DUP is not weakening its stance on Stormont and will not re-enter devolved government until concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol are addressed, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has been effectively collapsed for more than a year as the DUP presses the UK Government to act on the concerns it has raised, including around the region’s place in the UK internal market.
While the Government negotiated the Windsor Framework with the EU, the DUP said the deal “doesn’t adequately address the concerns”.
Addressing his party’s manifesto launch in Belfast ahead of next week’s council elections, Sir Jeffrey pledged to “stand firm”.
“Those who seek to steal votes from the DUP and divide unionism on the basis of that lie serve no purpose in what we’re all trying to achieve, which is the restoration of Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom and our ability to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom.
“Let me be clear, we are pledged to continue to stand firm after this election until we have properly secured and protected our place within the United Kingdom.
“The truth that many political representatives don’t want to hear is that the protocol upset the delicate political balance in Northern Ireland, and was not supported and is not supported by the unionist community.
“Our judgment and our principled position in opposing the protocol in Parliament and at Stormont has been vindicated. When others said there would be no renegotiation and no change, our determination has proven what can be achieved.”
He said that while the Windsor Framework “undoubtedly represents significant progress across a number of areas, it does not deal with some of the fundamental problems at the heart of our current difficulties”.
Last year’s assembly election saw Sinn Fein overtake the DUP to emerge as the largest party at Stormont.
Recent opinion polls suggested Sinn Fein will also top the poll at next week’s local government vote.
Sir Jeffrey said last year’s election must act as a “wake-up call” for unionists.
“This election is not only important because it will set the direction of our councils over the next four years, but its outcome is also being closely monitored and watched both nationally and internationally,” he said.
“Now is not the time for more division, and throughout our engagements on the doors in this campaign, it is clear that those who support the union want to see a unity of purpose among their elected representatives.
“The transfer of votes will matter, and we know this from the assembly election… the last election must act as a wake-up call for all unionists – divided votes hands seats to the opponents of the union.”
The number is marginally down from 161 candidates in 2019 council elections which saw 122 elected.
Sir Jeffrey said he has visited “nine or 10” of the 11 council areas and has been “greatly heartened” by the response, insisting his party’s vote is “not only holding up well, but advancing”.
He described his party has having a “positive plan for local government in Northern Ireland”.
“Our goal for every council is to deliver the best services at the lowest possible cost to rate payers,” he said.
“The Democratic Unionist Party has always championed the cutting of wasteful spending and keeping the rates burden to a minimum for hard-pressed rate payers.”