Northern Ireland: DUP threatens to collapse Stormont in 'high risk' gamble

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is blaming the EU for problems with the Northern Ireland protocol, but the prime minister's fingers are all over it. Credit: PA

Scrap the Protocol or we walk - that was the clear message from DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson today.

The Brexit deal stitched up by Boris Johnson and the EU has resulted in checks on goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, even before it has been fully implemented.

So if it is not dismantled within weeks, Sir Jeffrey will lead his party out of the Stormont Executive.

It is a brave move. It would automatically trigger an election in Northern Ireland at a time when his party, the DUP, are at an historic low point in the polls.

Sinn Fein look likely to be the biggest party after any imminent election, with the Unionist vote split three ways. Could the DUP go back into government with a Sinn Fein First Minister? It would be hard for them.

Here’s how the Donaldson strategy might pay off:

The DUP could stay out of government on principle if the Protocol is still in place. Would their Unionist opponents then dare go into a Sinn Fein lead executive? Doubtful.

If no cross-community Executive can be formed then the Stormont institutions will collapse and NI once more be run from Westminster.

The DUP will have time to regroup having triggered an election (that was due in May anyway) and taken a principled stand. It is a high risk strategy. Boris Johnson’s ability to fix any of this is limited - although Sir Jeffrey repeatedly blamed the EU for the Protocol, the prime minister’s fingerprints are all over it.

Mr Johnson agreed the Protocol to get past Theresa May’s ‘Irish Backstop’ problem. It did do that, but the EU don’t want to reopen it. If there is a way to make Brexit work that also upholds the Good Friday Agreement, no one has found it yet.