LONDON (AP) — Jeffrey Donaldson confirmed Monday that he will stand again for the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party, just five weeks after narrowly losing the election to lead the senior party in Northern Ireland’s government.
Donaldson, a lawmaker in the U.K. parliament in London, is not expected to be opposed following last month’s bruising contest that led to arguably the biggest crisis in the history of the DUP. The winner of that contest, Edwin Poots, resigned last week after colleagues revolted over a deal to appoint new leaders to the Protestant-Catholic power-sharing administration.
Nominations will close at noon on Tuesday and the next leader will be ratified by the DUP’s central executive committee on Saturday.
Donaldson warned that the power-sharing assembly in Belfast would be at risk if post-Brexit trade rules as they relate to Northern Ireland are not changed.
Under the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol signed by the British government and the European Union, customs and border checks have been imposed on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. That’s angered Northern Ireland’s unionist community who say the checks amount to a border in the Irish Sea and weaken ties with the rest of the U.K.
“Make no mistake, this is the number one issue facing our country, our people and our place within the United Kingdom,” 58-year-old Donaldson said.
“If elected, I will ensure that the government doesn’t just listen, but recognizes the need to take decisive action to deal quickly with the protocol,” he added.
He said a failure to act will “undoubtedly have consequences for the stability of our political institutions and the prosperity of our economy.”
The British government retains an array of powers affecting Northern Ireland, but the Belfast assembly can make laws in areas including agriculture, education and health. The power-sharing relationship has often been strained, and Britain’s economic split from the EU at the end of 2020 has further shaken the political balance in Northern Ireland.
Poots, a social and religious conservative, was elected on May 14, formally ratified as leader on May 27 and resigned 21 days later.
He broke with tradition by deciding not to serve as first minister of Northern Ireland, instead appointing Paul Givan to the post. During the last campaign, Donaldson indicated he would quit his seat in the House of Commons and return to the Belfast Assembly to take up the post of first minister.
The DUP, which is rooted in the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church, opposed Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. It later became reconciled to it and has shared power with the Irish Republican Army-linked Sinn Fein.
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