Meet Jim Allister; the man who stopped the DUP from accepting Rishi Sunak’s new Brexit deal and Northern Ireland’s answer to Nigel Farage.
The leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party holds the DUP in check as it considers backing the deal and ending the Northern Ireland Assembly’s long-standing boycott.
Just as Farage did with the Conservatives with Brexit and UKIP, the threat of Allister stripping DUP support has forced the much larger party to adopt TUV policies.
Now many suspect fears of the TUV will cause Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, to delay a decision on the Brexit deal until after the local elections in May.
“It’s still the same old protocol with a few minor tweaks,” Mr Allister said. “Brexit meant leaving as one nation, not leaving Northern Ireland behind, which the Protocol does.
“You should give all of the UK the Brexit that has enjoyed it most.”
As the only member of the Assembly, the 69-year-old Kings Counsel dominates the TUV as much as the former leader of the Brexit Party and UKIP.
But speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Allister laughed off the suggestion that he was “Norn Iron Nigel”.
“Well, that couldn’t be me, Nigel has a lot more talents and attributes than me,” said the former criminal defense attorney.
“I’ve followed the more basic principle of saying I stand for what I believe in, whether it’s popular or unpopular.”
But the controversial firefighter admitted that his influence at the base had forced the DUP to harden their position.
“The DUP finally got to the ground I laid down… and said it’s your choice: Stormont or the Protocol.”
He is a staunch opponent of the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement, which he calls a “buyout of terrorism”.
Like Farage, he is a former MEP and took over the Brussels seat from Ian Paisley, the former DUP leader.
He left the DUP for a second time in 2007 when Mr Paisley struck a power-sharing deal with former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and founded TUV.
The party attracted working-class loyalists and hard-line trade unionists before its support grew during the Irish Sea border dispute.
May’s local elections are a problem for Sir Jeffrey as he struggles to curb divisions in his party over the deal and as union work in Northern Ireland falls apart.
In last May’s Stormont elections, the DUP lost its status as the largest party to Sinn Fein for the first time in the country’s 100-year history after shedding its support for the TUV.
Mr Allister said Sir Jeffrey risked splitting the DUP or losing his leadership if he followed his “tendency” to support the deal.
“A significant number of union members who see the protocol as an attack will still see it that way, despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s over-the-top excesses,” Allister said.
“Nobody says I wonder if Jim Allister and the TUV will get into this deal. People go around saying I wonder if old Jeffrey Donaldson will believe it.
Mr Allister was a regular speaker on protest marches by trade unionists and loyalists against the Protocol before the elections in May last year.
Police commanders told MPs loyalist paramilitaries likely played a role in organizing the demonstrations against the Irish Sea border.
Elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference.
However, those “transfers” of votes don’t get to the TUV, which is seen as too extreme by moderate middle-class trade unionists and other communities.
Allister rejected allegations that his party is being too harsh.
“It’s about standing up for what’s right about these things and refusing to let Northern Ireland be treated as some kind of semi-detached addition to the UK,” he said.