‘Stop playing Russian roulette’ with future, Colum Eastwood warns Jeffrey Donaldson

Colum Eastwood has accused Jeffrey Donaldson of playing ‘Russian roulette’ with devolution by threatening to collapse Stormont over the Protocol.
Colum EastwoodColum Eastwood
Colum Eastwood

The Foyle MP was scathing after the DUP leader said he would walk away from Strand 2 of the Good Friday Agreement, would block checks and regulations required under the Protocol, and collapse the Executive if the Protocol was not scrapped.

The SDLP leader warned Mr. Donaldson that if Stormont collapses again it may never return, saying he did not ‘believe that devolution could sustain another self-inflicted wound like this’.

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He claimed: “Today’s change in tone and tack from the DUP follows another bad poll for the party. One party cannot be allowed to play Russian Roulette with devolution for the sake of their own political position.

“The DUP leader must withdraw his threats, reflect on the consequences of bad faith with partners in government and work with everyone to find solutions to ensure devolution delivers for people.”

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald was equally critical of the DUP leader.

She claimed: “The position set out by Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP today is a reckless, irresponsible and short-sighted election stunt.”

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However, Mr. Donaldson, in his speech at the La Mon Hotel yesterday, was unequivocal.

“Let me be clear: if the choice is ultimately between remaining in office or implementing the Protocol in its present form, then the only option for any unionist Minister would be to cease to hold such office,” said the Lagan Valley MP.

In his keynote speech in Belfast yesterday Mr. Donaldson outlined a four step strategy of opposition to the Protocol.

Firstly, he said his party will cease to implement the north-south arrangements under Strand 2 of the GFA.

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“As the Protocol issues remain unresolved, the DUP will immediately withdraw from the structures of Strand 2 of the Belfast Agreement relating to north south arrangements, while we will ensure important health related matters continue to be addressed on a cooperative basis,” he said.

Secondly, he will try to block any further checks on goods arriving at ports in the north once the Protocol grace period ends.

“Regardless of what the position of the UK Government or of the EU, in the future, DUP Ministers would seek to block additional checks at the ports,” he declared.

Thirdly, the DUP will examine the legality of existing checks in an attempt to identify if there is ‘scope to limit or eradicate’ them.

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If this proves fruitless, Mr. Donaldson warned, his party may decide on the nuclear option of bringing down the Executive.

“If in the final analysis those who are democratically elected by the people of NI lack the power to prevent such checks, and the protocol issues remain, then the position in office of DUP Ministers would become untenable,” he said yesterday.

Fourthly, the anti-Protocol strategy will involve the DUP blocking the transposition of EU law and regulation into local legislation in the north.

“Over time a failure to incorporate such law will mean that NI will increasingly diverge from EU law and would ultimately undermine the operation of the EU Single Market. We are pledged to make sure that this happens,” said Mr. Donaldson.

But the Lagan Valley MP’s critics were withering.

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Ms. McDonald said: “They are threatening the stability of the political institutions when we are in the midst of the COVID pandemic, when the Tories are putting families and workers under pressure with more cuts, and when there is big work to do on the issues that matter to people’s everyday lives - on hospital waiting lists, on schools, on housing and on jobs, and on rebuilding our economy.

“The DUP is clearly in panic mode, driven by poor opinion polls,” she claimed, adding: “Unionism has lost its political majority, the DUP is in disarray and their vote is in decline.”

Mr. Eastwood said: “The remarks made by the leader of the DUP this morning are disappointing, disproportionate and risk putting an end to devolution in NI.

“I hoped that Jeffrey Donaldson’s leadership would be pragmatic, aimed at resolving the challenges that Brexit has created for all of our communities and acknowledging the need for compromise,” the SDLP leader added.