DUP’s Donaldson Demands Removal of Brexit ‘Irish Sea Border’

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Removing the “Irish Sea Border” created by post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland will be the Democratic Unionist Party’s top priority, according to its new leader.

“The Irish Sea Border is not just a threat to the economic integrity of the United Kingdom; it is a threat to the living standards of the people of Northern Ireland and the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom,” DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said in a speech in Belfast Thursday. Removing it is the “only path to stable and sustainable government in Northern Ireland,” he said.

Donaldson, who was formally ratified as the party’s leader late Wednesday, said he’s had meetings on the Northern Ireland Protocol in recent days, including with the U.K.’s Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Brexit minister David Frost. “While the government is undoubtedly now accepting the case that the Protocol is unsustainable and unacceptable, there is still some way to go to reach an outcome that we can live with,” he said.

Donaldson’s appointment comes after a turbulent few months for the DUP, which has seen its support decline in opinion polls as Brexit -- and the rules governing the trade of goods with the British mainland that came with it -- disrupted trade and led to violence. The U.K. and European Union agreed a truce on Wednesday in their escalating trade dispute dubbed the Brexit “sausage wars” by the British media.

His predecessor, Edwin Poots, was ousted last month after just three weeks in the role. Poots had narrowly beaten Donaldson to the post in a May election following Arlene Foster’s resignation.

Other party objectives include building broad support among unionists and making the case for Northern Ireland’s place within the U.K., against nationalist calls for a referendum, or “border poll,” on a united Ireland.

“We cannot afford to sleepwalk into a border poll that others have spent many years preparing for,” Donaldson said. “Rather than wait until it is too late this is the time to work to make sure that the conditions for a border poll are never satisfied.”

The outcome of the next regional Assembly elections, currently scheduled for May 2022, will be a “defining moment” for Northern Ireland, Donaldson said.

“Make no mistake there are those who will treat next year’s Assembly election as a referendum on a border poll that would plunge Northern Ireland into division and instability, at a time when we need to be building a stable and united community,” he said.

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