Donaldson insists DUP do not fear an election

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he and his party are "absolutely ready to fight" an election if necessary. Credit: UTV

The leader of the DUP has insisted he does not fear an election and said that unionists are coalescing around the position of his party.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who has warned the Prime Minister that the DUP will not return to powersharing in Northern Ireland unless "decisive action" is taken to remove Brexit's Irish Sea border, said he and his party are "absolutely ready to fight" an election if necessary.

But the party leader said he does not believe an election will solve the problem.

Sir Jeffrey told delegates at the DUP conference in Belfast on Saturday that changes must be secured to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol, either through renewed talks with the EU or by unilateral action at Westminster.

The DUP is blocking the functioning of the powersharing institutions in Belfast as part of its protest against arrangements that have created barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Political opponents have heavily criticised the DUP boycott, insisting it is hampering efforts to support families struggling amid the cost-of-living crisis.

If powersharing is not restored by October 28 the Government assumes a legal responsibility to call a fresh Assembly election.

Sir Jeffrey told Times Radio on Sunday: "The problem for unionism in the last election was not the rise of support for Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein didn't gain one single extra seat in the Assembly.

"The problem was divisions within unionism, and I think what we're now seeing is actually that unionists are coalescing around the position of the DUP, so I don't fear an election.

"Let me be clear, if you're suggesting that I want to avoid an election, therefore I go back into Stormont to avoid going to the people, well then let me absolutely knock that on the head right here and now.

"We are not fearful of going to the people. We will take our case to the people. We've never run away from an election and we're not about to do it now and if the Government feels an election is going to solve the problem, then so be it.

"I don't think it will. But my party and I are absolutely ready to fight that election if it's necessary. I think our support at the moment is strong, people recognise we need to sort out this protocol because it's causing real everyday problems for businesses and households across all of Northern Ireland.

"It's driving up the cost of living. It's creating an enormous barrier to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is disrupting the UK internal market. The Government has said they're committed to resolving that. So let's get on with it."

The UK Government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either by way of a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed domestic legislation that would empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.

There are concerns the latter approach - the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill - could spark a trade war with the EU.

However, relations between the UK and EU appear to have improved since Liz Truss became Prime Minister and both London and Brussels have been talking up the potential for striking a deal through a fresh round of negotiations.

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