DUP leader says Government must provide timetable for changes to NI Protocol

·5-min read

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said the UK Government must provide a timetable for when changes will be made to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Sir Jeffrey was speaking following a meeting with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss about the post-Brexit arrangements on Monday.

Sinn Fein also held a separate virtual meeting with Ms Truss, following which Stormont deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said ongoing talk about triggering Article 16 was “reckless”.

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Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill shares a virtual meeting with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss from her offices at Parliament Buildings, Stormont (Peter Morrison/PA)

Earlier, Sir Jeffrey had indicated a “pause” on the DUP threat to collapse the powersharing institutions at Stormont over the protocol would remain pending the outcome of renewed negotiations between the UK and EU over the Irish Sea trading barriers.

In a statement following his meeting with the Foreign Secretary, Sir Jeffrey said: “We have indicated to Ms Truss that Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom internal market must be restored so that there are no checks for goods travelling from Great Britain and staying within Northern Ireland.

“That must be guaranteed by the UK Government.

“Following the meeting we have asked the Government to set out a plan of how they intend to deliver imminently on their command paper.

“The UK Government must also indicate a timetable as to when and how these restored arrangements for Northern Ireland will be brought about.

“For our part we will use all measures at our disposal to continue to oppose the implementation of the current arrangements flowing from the protocol and we have made it clear to the Government that we will not be implementers of protocol arrangements.”

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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (Ian West/PA)

Sir Jeffrey added: “We understand she already has a clear understanding of the problems created over the last year.

“Northern Ireland is currently required to implement EU law on a wide range of economic, finance and manufacturing policy without any input whatsoever from Northern Ireland or UK legislators and is subject to the jurisdiction of the EU courts.

“Northern Ireland cannot continue to be held prisoner in such arrangements.

“The protocol was imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of its people.”

Asked about his party’s threats to collapse the power-sharing institutions at Stormont over the Northern Ireland Protocol, Sir Jeffrey said: “I want political stability, but I’m also clear that if the price of this protocol is enormous harm to the union, enormous harm to our economy on a daily basis, that is not a price that we can be expected to pay.

“I want political stability but it can’t be built on the basis that our economy and our links to the rest of the UK are being damaged by this protocol.”

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Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, said talk of triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol was ‘reckless’ (David Young/PA)

Following her meeting with the DUP leader, Ms Truss then met virtually with Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and Ms O’Neill.

Ms O’Neill said: “I took the opportunity to drive home the message that the DUP do not speak for the majority of people here.

“(I told her) that we want to find an urgent solution, that the protocol must be made to work.

“She said she did not want to trigger Article 16, but we are yet to see the colour of her money.”

She said: “I think it is reckless to continue to talk about triggering Article 16 whenever that will not suspend the protocol.

“What we need are solutions, what we need is to find practical ways to make the protocol work.

“All efforts should be focused on building on the momentum which was achieved before Christmas with the medicines issue that was resolved.

“Now bring that same sense of urgency and momentum into the outstanding issues which remain.”

The Foreign Secretary has taken charge of the UK negotiations on the protocol after Lord Frost’s resignation from the Government last month. She will hold face-to-face talks with her EU counterpart – European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic – later this week.

But Ms O’Neill said she did not believe the UK Government policy on the protocol had changed.

She said: “It is a change of the person at the helm, but I think the Tory policy is the policy.

“What the majority of people here want, what the business community want, is certainty and stability.”

Ms Truss had earlier insisted she will not sign up to any arrangement that involved checks on goods moving within the UK.

Checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are central to the operation of the protocol in its current form.

Ms Truss also reiterated the Government threat to suspend elements of the protocol – by triggering its Article 16 mechanism – if a negotiated settlement with the EU proves elusive.

“When I see Maros Sefcovic this week for our first face-to-face talks, I’ll be putting forward our constructive proposals to resolve the situation,” the Foreign Secretary said in the Sunday Telegraph. “I am prepared to work night and day to negotiate a solution.

“But let me be clear: I will not sign up to anything which sees the people of Northern Ireland unable to benefit from the same decisions on taxation and spending as the rest of the UK, or which still sees goods moving within our own country being subject to checks.

“My priority is to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland. I want a negotiated solution, but if we have to use legitimate provisions including Article 16, I am willing to do that.”

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