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DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said it is not acceptable for Northern Ireland to fall within the jurisdiction of a court over which it has no control.
He made the remark as he was pressed on the DUP position on the Government’s demand for the EU to remove the arbitration role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Fielding media questions at Stormont, Sir Jeffrey was asked why the ECJ was not referred to explicitly in his party’s seven tests for judging efforts to resolve issues with the protocol.
Sir Jeffrey said ECJ jurisdiction fell within the fourth test set out by the party: “Give people in Northern Ireland a say in making the laws that govern them”.
“Actually that is part of my test – that I want to know how the people of Northern Ireland are going to be dealt with in all of this,” he said.
“It is not acceptable for Northern Ireland to have to accept laws and the jurisdiction of a court over which we have no control and in which we have no say. That is not the way forward.”
Sir Jeffrey added: “We are very clear that the governance arrangements, how any future measures and arrangements that are agreed with the EU are taken forward, how they are governed is very important, because there is the potential for future divergence between the UK and the EU, and we don’t want Northern Ireland once again caught in the middle of all of that.”
Earlier, Sinn Fein accused the UK Government of shifting the goalposts by demanding the removal of the ECJ’s role in the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Declan Kearney questioned whether the Government was throwing a “dead cat” on the negotiating table because the EU was about to “call their bluff” by tabling proposals that would resolve the practical difficulties with Irish Sea trade.
However, Sir Jeffrey said there are “genuine issues” with European judges having the final say on trading disputes involving Northern Ireland.
The EU will outline what it has described as “far-reaching proposals” on Wednesday in a bid to resolve issues with the protocol.
Brexit negotiator Lord Frost has said the ECJ’s oversight role in arbitrating over any future UK/EU disagreements on the protocol must be removed if both sides are to resolve the stand-off over the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangement.
Critics of the UK Government claim it is now raising a new fresh red line when engagement to date has been focused on reducing everyday checks and processes on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Mr Kearney, a Sinn Fein junior minister at Stormont, told BBC Radio Ulster: “The problem throughout, and particularly over the last nine to 10 months, is that as we have attempted to double down and deal with these issues, the goalposts continuously seem to change from the perspective of David Frost’s negotiation strategy and I think now that we’re seeing the goalposts shift once more.
“I think it can be read potentially one of two ways.
“This may well be a negotiation tactic. We’re now approaching the point where hopefully all of these issues can be successfully covered off and we can in fact see all the difficulties with the protocol eliminated and David Frost is simply trying to up the ante and bring some more heat into the talks process that will follow publication of the European Union proposals.
“However, there is another scenario. And that is they are at this point in time, that is David Frost and the Tory Government, finding that their bluff has finally been called and the European Union is indeed determined to bring forward substantive proposals on all of these areas – medicines, agri-food, customs, and governance – that will in fact bring certainty, simplicity and stability for our business sector here in the north and across the island economy and they’re running scared from that.
“Hence, the dead cat of the European Court of Justice being thrown on to the table.”
Mr Kearney said it would be a “disaster” if the UK Government walked away from the protocol.
Sir Jeffrey said he understood why the Government had concerns over the ECJ.
He insisted it was not a new issue and had been flagged in the Government’s Command Paper on the protocol published in the summer.
The DUP leader however declined to be drawn when pressed on whether the issue would be a “red line” for his party.
He said he would not judge the EU proposals until he had sight of them, insisting his priority was the removal of the Irish Sea border.
Speaking in the Stormont Assembly on Monday afternoon, First Minister Paul Givan emphasised the “harm” being done by the protocol, adding it “isn’t working and that change needs to be made”.
“I look forward to the proposals later this week from the European Union, I look forward to the United Kingdom Government in terms of how they will respond to that and let us get to a place where east/west no longer has any barriers, and of course that is interdependent to the north/south relationship,” he told MLAs.