Ukraine war must not see Government action on protocol freeze, Donaldson warns

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was commenting amid suggestions the Government may be reluctant to deepen the dispute with the EU over the contentious Irish Sea trade barriers due to the situation in Ukraine.

Sir Jeffrey also insisted the DUP would continue to attend anti-protocol rallies organised by loyalists in Northern Ireland despite senior MP Sammy Wilson being booed at an event in Co Armagh last month.

Ongoing talks between the UK and EU on ways to reduce the red tape created by the protocol are continuing, albeit the engagements are set to be more low key in the coming months with both London and Brussels mindful of a potentially fractious election campaign in Northern Ireland ahead of May’s Assembly poll.

TUV leader Jim Allister, left, intervenes during a speech by DUP MP Sammy Wilson at an anti-NI Protocol rally in Markethill, Co Armagh, during booing (Cate McCurry/PA) / PA Wire

Sir Jeffrey was asked whether he expects to see Government focus on the protocol diverted due to the conflict in eastern Europe.

He said: “I want to find solutions. People here in Northern Ireland are suffering as a result of the protocol. I could give many examples of how the protocol is impacting on individuals, on families and on businesses all across Northern Ireland.

“Of course the situation in Ukraine is vitally important but it doesn’t mean that Government in the UK freezes, the Government in the UK stops making decisions.

“I hope to meet the Deputy Prime Minister (Dominic Raab) early next week, who has asked for a meeting to discuss these matters, and I will be putting the case to him that, of course we must do all we can to support Ukraine, to support the people of Ukraine, but we also have a duty to support our own people and in Northern Ireland the protocol remains a problem and it needs to be addressed.”

The protocol has created new economic barriers on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Agreed by the UK and EU to ensure no hardening of the Irish land border post-Brexit, it has instead moved regulatory and customs checks to the Irish Sea, with Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market for goods. The region also applies the EU customs code at its ports.

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