DUP to pressure Liz Truss to trigger ‘nuclear option’ in Brexit negotiations

The Democratic Unionist Party will heap pressure on Liz Truss to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the new year, The Telegraph can reveal.

The move would risk a trade war with Brussels and the Government has recently dialled down its rhetoric over the so-called “nuclear option” of unilaterally overriding parts of the protocol.

DUP sources said the move was necessary ahead of Stormont elections next year, which are likely to be dominated by the dispute over the protocol and the Irish Sea border.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, has repeatedly threatened to collapse the Stormont Assembly unless the protocol is significantly overhauled in ongoing talks.

Lord Frost resigned last week, blaming policy differences over Covid, after it emerged the UK had softened its demands over the role of EU judges in Northern Ireland.

The DUP will tell the Government it has to prove that Ms Truss will be as tough a Brexit negotiator as Lord Frost. Unionists say the protocol is driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and the UK.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, held her first meeting with her new EU team on Tuesday after taking over the Brexit brief

Credit: Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street

“There needs to be action. The Government has already said that the threshold for triggering Article 16 has been met,” a senior DUP source said.

British officials have privately expressed concern that talks over the protocol need to be wrapped up before next May’s Northern Ireland elections.

They officials fear failure to secure an early agreement that ends trade disruptions between the province and the rest of the UK could heavily influence the ballot.

“If this is still going on in the background during the election period that would obviously create a whole world of complications, which aren’t good for anyone,” a source told the Telegraph.

Legal experts are also looking into whether talks would be able to continue during the purdah period, which restricts government activity in the weeks leading up to the election. Purdah could also influence whether or when Article 16 could be triggered.

Sir Jeffrey is under pressure from hardline Unionists to deliver protocol results or carry out his threat to trigger early elections.

Party insiders said that even a largely cosmetic use of Article 16 could relieve that pressure and win Sir Jeffrey political space to manoeuvre.

Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister, said that he had resigned from Government due to policy differences over Covid restrictions

Credit: Sky News

Sir Jeffrey held video talks with Ms Truss on Tuesday afternoon. Sources close to the Foreign Secretary denied she had been told to trigger Article 16 in the call.

Ms Truss has repeatedly insisted that her appointment will bring no change in approach and that Article 16 remains on the table.

She will accept some role for EU judges in Northern Ireland even though she insists the UK should not appear before the European Court of Justice in the case of disputes with the bloc.

The Conservatives are no longer dependent on DUP votes since Boris Johnson’s election victory in 2019 brought a large majority. But a drop in support for the DUP in Northern Ireland over the protocol could strengthen calls for Irish reunification.

The DUP is lagging behind Sinn Fein as the largest party in Northern Ireland, according to a November poll by the University of Liverpool, which found they had lost a third of votes received in the 2019 elections.  

The DUP has just one seat more than Sinn Fein, which favours Irish reunification, in the current Stormont Assembly. The poll showed almost two thirds of those asked felt it had handled the protocol issue poorly.

There are fears the DUP, which campaigned for Brexit, could be toppled as Northern Ireland’s largest party in Stormont. If Sinn Fein builds on recent electoral successes in Ireland, it could mean governments in both countries being led by the nationalist party.

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