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UK government slammed for ‘sleazy’ plan that could see DUP leader out-earn PM

Northern Irish politicians accused the government of giving key allies the DUP an ‘overt benefit’ by scrapping double-jobbing ban

Adam Bychawski
18 January 2022, 5.38pm
Under new proposals, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson could earn £40,000 more than Boris Johnson
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

“Shocking” proposals that could give controversial DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson one of the highest salaries in UK politics have been slammed as “sleazy” and “damaging to trust”.

The British government has moved to overturn a 2016 ban on ‘double jobbing’, which would allow politicians to sit in both Westminster and Stormont parliaments.

The move, widely seen as designed to put Donaldson back in Stormont, could see the DUP leader – who does not currently have a seat on the Northern Ireland Assembly – taking home £40,000 more than Boris Johnson’s £161,401.

The changes would mean the DUP leader would no longer have to resign as a Westminster MP should he run for a seat in May’s assembly elections, which is considered highly likely. Donaldson has said that he would like to replace the DUP's Paul Givan as Northern Ireland’s first minister, which would secure him an extra £123,000 salary on top of his current MP’s salary of £81,932.

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Northern Irish politicians accused the UK government of “going over their heads” to give Donaldson and his party an “overt benefit”. The DUP’s ten Westminster seats were crucial to propping up Theresa May’s minority government in 2017 and the Unionists are seen as key allies for the Tories.

Matthew O’Toole, a member of the Legislative Assembly for the Social Democratic and Labour Party, told openDemocracy it was “shocking” that the UK government was giving Donaldson “an each way bet on whether he gets into the assembly. It’s all a bit sleazy.

“There’s already significant issues around public trust in our politicians, this would damage it further,” he added.

“The argument being made by the British government is that this will ensure stability of Northern Ireland’s institutions. But what they really mean is that it will ensure stability of DUP representation.”

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Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry told openDemocracy that it “overtly benefits one party over all others”.

And Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill said in a statement that the amendment showed “what lengths the Tories will go to shore up unionism, despite their endless talk of a balanced approach”.

The government’s proposed amendment to the double jobbing rules comes just a month after Boris Johnson threatened to scrap the Northern Ireland protocol he agreed with the European Union in 2020.

Donaldson has been highly critical of the deal, which established a customs border in the Irish Sea in order to avoid imposing a hard border between the UK and the Republic.

In December, Johnson said he had “extensively discussed” the protocol with Donaldson and that “we share a view that the protocol is not working in the way that it needs to in order to guarantee the Belfast-Good Friday agreement”.

Donaldson, who has been MP for Lagan Valley since 1997, told the BBC’s ‘Good Morning Ulster’ that the move to bring back ‘double jobbing’ was “categorically not” the result of a deal with Westminster.

“There is no agreement on this between the DUP and the government,” he said. “We are very clear where we stand on a range of issues.”

There’s already significant issues around public trust in our politicians, this would damage it further

Matthew O’Toole, Social Democratic and Labour Party MLA

Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle said the measure would “risk further destabilising an already fragile political landscape in the approach to elections”.

The reversal of the double-jobbing ban would bring Northern Ireland in line with Wales and Scotland, which currently allow MPs to hold two positions, although neither Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford nor Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon ran in Westminster elections in 2019.

The practice was banned in Northern Ireland in 2016 as an attempt to regain public trust in politicians following the expenses scandal in 2010.

In 2017, openDemocracy revealed that secret donors gave the DUP a record-breaking £435,000 donation to campaign for Brexit.

Donaldson, the current DUP leader, who at the time was managing the party's Brexit campaign insisted that no rules had been broken.

First elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1985, Donaldson spent two years working as a constituency agent for the infamous right-wing politician Enoch Powell. Powell’s anti-immigration ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 saw him dismissed from the Conservative shadow cabinet by Edward Heath.

Update 19/01/22: At Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said the amendment will be withdrawn in response to a question from Simon Hoare, the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

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