THE newest leader of the Democratic Unionist Party vowed to tackle the “flaws” of the Northern Ireland Protocol as he set out his stall for his new role.
On Saturday, June 26, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was formally endorsed for the leadership position by the DUP’s electoral college.
The MP for Lagan Valley was the only candidate to put his name forward for the position, which became available following the swift departure of former leader Edwin Poots.
Mr Poots resigned from his position as leader of the party on June 18, just 21 days after he replaced the ousted Arlene Foster in the role.
Mr Donaldson, who received the backing of 32 out of 36 votes from the party's assembly members and MPs, will see his new position formally ratified this week, at a meeting of the DUP executive.
That will make him the party’s fifth leader in 50 years – and it’s third in some 50 days.
With a fragile party to lead, Mr Donaldson was under no illusion as to the challenges that lie ahead when he reacted to news of his successful nomination for the leader position.
“The task ahead is great,” he said.
“I do not underestimate the challenge, but I know the overwhelming majority of people who live here want Northern Ireland to keep moving forward.”
He added: “I have the vision to lead unionism into its second century, by embracing those who believe in a Northern Ireland where people of all identities and none can live, work and raise their family.
“I have the vision to unite Northern Ireland and heal the divisions of the past. We don’t move forward by ignoring our past but by remembering and learning.”
Welcoming Mr Donaldson into the new role, DUP Chairman Lord Morrow said: “Following the completion of our party processes Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP will be the next leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.
“The last number of weeks has been difficult for the Party and mistakes have been made.
“Now is the time to move forward in a spirit of humility and mindful that our focus must be on serving the people whom we represent.”
He added: “I look forward to the challenges of rebuilding and reconnecting in the time ahead.”
Setting out his plans for the party and his new position of power within it, Mr Donaldson confirmed that he would make issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol his priority.
Claiming the Protocol was “foisted on Northern Ireland”, Mr Donaldson vowed to “emphasise” that instability would continue within the region while the Protocol remained in place.
“I will be speaking with the Prime Minister at the earliest opportunity to emphasise that it is not realistic to expect stability when every unionist representative in the devolved institutions opposes the Northern Ireland Protocol,” he said.
“The Government and those who claim to be protectors of peace and stability, must step up and deal with the Protocol in a manner which respects the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom,” he explained.
He added: “The Government and Brussels must step up and recognise the flaws of the Protocol and how it was foisted upon Northern Ireland.”
In response to Mr Donaldson’s claims, Sinn Féin’s Finance Minister, Conor Murphy said: “We want the Protocol arrangements to work.
“They wouldn’t have been necessary if it hadn’t been for the new leader of the DUP and his party colleagues pushing the hardest possible Brexit with the Tory party.”
He added: “That is why the Protocol was necessary, to try and undo some of that damage.”