DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has issued a veiled threat to the stability of the north of Ireland if his demands on the Brexit protocol are not met.
It is the latest attempt by Donaldson to increase tension over the protocol, a special deal between London and the EU which prevents a remilitarisation of the border area in Ireland due to Brexit.
Speaking before the ‘House of Lords’ of the Westminster parliament this week, Donaldson was asked what the implications were if changes to the protocol were not agreed.
The DUP leader said: “Then I fear for the political and economic stability of Northern Ireland.
“To tamper with the very delicate constitutional balance takes a real risk with the stability of the political institutions and the stability of Northern Ireland.”
Last week, Donaldson delivered a speech where he threatened to withdraw his ministers and bring down the powersharing institutions at Stormont over the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
He repeated the warning on a BBC podcast, declaring that there could be renewed “civil unrest” unless there are changes.
“Earlier in the year we had people back out on the streets again. There was civil unrest, there was violence on the streets,” he said.
“I don’t want that to happen, I want Northern Ireland to be peaceful, prosperous, stable but I’m worried that if this protocol continues and people become more fearful about the future, then again we will see people back out on the streets, and that is not good because it has the potential for further unrest.”
It was no coincidence that a protest was hastily organised in the loyalist heartland of Newtownards on Friday night.
More than a hundred people turned out for a march and rally addressed by ultra-hardline unionist Jim Allister. Mr Allister claimed the gathering, supported on social media by loyalist militant groups, proved that opposition to the protocol “is not dying down”.
He described the protocol as unionists implementing their own self destruction. “If we do not kill this protocol, it will kill the union, that’s the reality,” he declared.
The DUP’s support for the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement has declined in line with the rise in opinion poll support for Allister’s TUV. Last week, Donaldson was accused of ‘panicking’ when he announced an end to his party’s involvement in the North-South Ministerial Council.
Political commentators aer increasingly warning that if the DUP pulls down Stormont, it may not allow it to be revived if it means the installation of a Sinn Féin First Minister next year, with Donaldson relegated to the title of Deputy First Minister.
“It’s an irony that it has to be unionists, handed this place in 1921 after an unparalleled campaign of murder and arson, who are the people to demonstrate it can’t work, because no unionist leader is capable of reciprocity with republicans. Mere equality is unthinkable,” wrote historian Brian Feeney.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald appealed to the DUP to end its threats. Speaking at a Sinn Féin event in Dublin, Ms McDonald urged Mr Donaldson to rethink his strategy.
“I urge again Mr Donaldson to reflect on his position, and to turn away from this divisive approach,” the Sinn Féin leader told a meeting of her parliamentary party.
“Now is not the time for reactionary, narrow politics. It is a time for calm and assured leadership. Participation in the north-south institutions can’t be cherry picked.
“We are determined to make politics work for everyone. That means making the institutions in the north work. It means defending the protocol and upholding the Good Friday Agreement.
“So the position set out by the DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson is, as I’ve said before, reckless, irresponsible and clearly made in panic mode. The protocol protects this island from the sharpest edge of the Tory Brexit.”