By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he fears for the future of the Stormont political institutions if the post-Brexit Irish Sea border is not removed.
Sir Jeffrey was giving evidence to the House of Lords constitution committee where he told peers that the Northern Ireland Protocol had altered the constitutional state of Northern Ireland within the UK.
The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing land border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
Unionists in Northern Ireland have been vehemently opposed to its terms, which see additional checks on goods arriving to the region from the rest of the UK.
The Lords committee is exploring the future governance of the UK and Baroness Suttie asked the DUP leader about the impact of the protocol on the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Sir Jeffrey told the committee: “The Northern Ireland Protocol, in my opinion and in the opinion of the High Court in Belfast, alters the constitutional status of Northern Ireland within the UK.
“The most fundamental piece of law in terms of Northern Ireland’s place within the union is the Act of Union itself and recently the High Court ruled in a landmark case that the EU Withdrawal Agreement and the NI Protocol repeals key elements of article six of the Act of Union.
“Article six makes provision for free trade within the United Kingdom.
“It states clearly that there should be no barriers to trade between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.
“For the High Court to state very clearly that the terms of the Act of Union have been altered significantly by the NI Protocol marks for us an unacceptable change in our constitutional status.
“It is also worth noting that article one of the Good Friday Agreement makes very clear that any change to the constitutional status should require the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
“The consent of the people of Northern Ireland has not been sought for amending article six.”
He added: “The difficulties now created by the protocol, in terms of impeding trade to Northern Ireland are significant.
“We know that many of our largest businesses, manufacturers, retailers are having real difficulties in accessing their traditional supply chains from suppliers in Great Britain.
“Many companies in Great Britain are saying it’s really not worth doing business in Northern Ireland, it is just too much hassle.”
Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Doocey, asked what the implications were if solutions to the problems created by the protocol could not be found.
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.
“I really do think that the Government needs to do what they said they would do in their command paper published earlier this year and put this right, because unless we deliver the solutions that are required and remove these barriers to trade and the political instability they create, I fear for the stability of the political institutions.”
Committee member Lord Howell said it was a “rather sombre and sober reminder of the dangers we are in”.
Last week, Sir Jeffrey delivered a speech where he threatened to withdraw his ministers and bring down the powersharing institutions at Stormont if his demands over the protocol were not met.
He told the committee: “It is not a decision I want to take.
“I really hope that we can find the solutions that are required to avoid the collapse of the political institutions because we have all invested so much in those institutions.
“The EU need to rise above their sense of regret that the UK has left the European community and stop using Northern Ireland as some sort of political football.
“It is a dangerous game.”