DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson steps up with House of Commons speech

  • By Enda McClafferty
  • BBC News NI political editor
Video caption,

Sir Jeffrey was speaking as the Commons debated a bill to extend the deadline for restoring devolution

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson once said when the key moment arrived and he faced his greatest challenge, he would “step up and be a leader”.

That was his response when asked how he planned to deal with internal party divisions if there was a deal to be done.

Would he really agree to return to power sharing without the full support of all his party officers?

That conversation happened in the summer standing on College Green outside the House of Commons.

On Wednesday, that key moment arrived inside the Commons when Sir Jeffrey Donaldson “stepped up” and faced down his challengers both inside and outside his party.

It was the moment when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader grabbed hold of the process with both hands and warned his opponents he won’t be bullied.

Image caption,

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson lashed out at the TUV posters accusing his party of selling out the union

This was a man waiting to unleash the anger and frustration which has been building for months.

Those within his own party who have been “stirring up” and “orchestrating” opposition were firmly in his sights.

He directly linked the threat he received to those behind the “stirring”.

Sir Jeffrey also lashed out at the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) posters accusing his party of selling out the union.

This too was personal as one of the posters was placed outside the home of a close family relative of the DUP leader.

A return to power sharing?

Wednesday was also an opportunity for Sir Jeffrey to remind others of his unionist credentials from the years he wore the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) uniform to now “working night and day” to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.

But the speech was more than just a scathing swipe at his opponents.

It also felt like the DUP leader was preparing the ground for a possible return to Stormont and preparing his party for a battle to sell the deal.

That is how other MPs in the chamber interpreted his words.

For the first time in two years, it feels like the DUP is firmly on the path back to power sharing.

It is hard to imagine how Sir Jeffrey could turn his back on devolution now having made that speech.

Image caption,

It may take more than a passionate speech to move some within the party to accept a deal

If the party does end its Stormont boycott, then many will look to his performance in the Commons as the moment the DUP dial moved.

But it may take more than passion and emotion to move those within the party opposed to what the government has put on the table.

Their minds are probably already made up and are beyond the reach of any speech by the party leader.

The challenge for Sir Jeffrey will be to ensure those voices don’t pull against the leadership if they have a deal to sell.

The focus now will fall once more on the next DUP officer meeting which we are told to expect this week.

Will it be the “yay or nay” moment?

If it turns out to be a “yay”, we can expect another big speech from the party leader.

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