Sir Jeffrey Donaldson hints at support for Liz Truss as next PM but refuses to confirm DUP’s preferred candidate

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has refused to say who would be his preferred winner in the Conservative Party leadership debate, but suggested Liz Truss’ support for the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill would favour her.

s Truss and former chancellor Rishi Sunak clashed live on BBC on Monday night during a heated television debate which saw the pair trash each other’s economic plans, while personal attacks continued with Mr Sunak accused by allies of Ms Truss of “mansplaining” during the debate.

DUP MP Ian Paisley has been one of the few within his party to publicly back Ms Truss to become the next Prime Minister and said unionists would “trust” her more.

However, his party leader said he has to work with “whoever is the Prime Minister” and also expressed concern over the electoral damage done to the Tories with the public nature of the contest.

“Look on one level clearly Liz Truss is the person who brought forward the protocol Bill and has been very supportive of it, but the indications we have had from Rishi Sunak’s camp are that in the absence of agreement with the EU, that he will proceed with the Bill and we welcome that,” Sir Jeffrey told the Nolan Show.

“I am not going to get drawn into or endorsing one particular candidate, because in the end as party leader I will have to work with whoever is the Prime Minister.

“I thought it was a really robust leadership debate. I am a little concerned if I am honest that the Conservative Party in the very public way it is airing its differences, will harm its electoral prospects in the short to medium term.

“I think it is important whoever is elected as the leader, they bring the party back together again, like my own party when we went through our leadership contest last year.

“It was a bruising experience, a difficult experience, at times it did open up into the public. It takes time to heal.”

Last summer the DUP was engulfed in turmoil over the removal of former leader Arlene Foster and the short-lived reign of Edwin Poots as leader.

When asked if his party is now “healed”, Mr Donaldson pointed to his “long, long friendship” with Mr Poots.

“I think it is [healed]. For example last week I had a great evening in south Belfast with Edwin and his team,” added the DUP leader.

“I don’t think we ever fell out and I am not the kind of person who allows political difference to get in the way of what has been a long long friendship.”

Meanwhile, despite the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill passing through its stages in the House of Commons, Sir Jeffrey said his party will continue to monitor the legislation’s progress through the House of Lords “very closely and carefully”.

Northern Ireland is currently without a government at Stormont as a result of the DUP’s opposition to the protocol and their refusal to nominate a Speaker at the Assembly until the issue is resolved.

“I have said we will monitor progress very closely and carefully. We welcome the fact the Bill is through all stages in the House of Commons. We do know there will be opposition within the Lords,” Sir Jeffrey said.

“What I am anxious to ascertain from whoever is the new leader of the Conservatives and Prime Minister…. is the level of their commitment to the Bill and taking it forward. That commitment will be essential to ensure whatever the opposition in the Lords, the Government will prevail.

“In the absence of agreement with the EU we want to see the Bill becoming law. We hope the Government, in the next few weeks after no doubt we have a new PM, will bring forward the draft regulations that will see the provisions of the Bill implemented.”

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