Next generation in NI depends on outcome of protocol negotiations – DUP

The next generation of Northern Ireland depends on the outcome of any deal struck between the UK and the EU in the coming days on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the DUP leader has said.

In a weekend message to party members, seen by the PA news agency, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said now is the time for “Brussels to stretch itself” to restore political stability in Northern Ireland.

There is mounting speculation that the UK and EU could unveil a deal aimed at breaking the impasse over the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements early next week.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to meet European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the fringes of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday to try to get an agreement over the line.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a short visit to Northern Ireland this week (Liam McBurney/PA)

It follows a visit to Northern Ireland by the PM, during which he met the DUP on Thursday and Friday as well as holding brief meetings with other party leaders.

The protocol is deeply unpopular with unionists due to economic barriers it has created on trade being shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and the DUP has collapsed the powersharing institutions in Stormont in protest.

In his weekend message to party members, Sir Jeffrey repeated many of the themes expressed when he spoke to the media on Friday.

The party message said: “On both Thursday evening and yesterday morning I engaged with the Prime Minister and his officials on the progress in negotiations with the European Union around the NI Protocol.

“There can be no disputing the significance of this moment.

“The negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union are only happening because of the decisive leadership this party has shown.

“The next generation of Northern Ireland depends on the actions of the Prime Minister and the EU Commission President in the coming days.

“Their actions will either lead to healing in Northern Ireland or perpetuate division.”

The DUP leader added: “Progress has been made in some areas and while that is welcome, in other key areas it currently falls short of what would be acceptable and required to meet our seven tests.

“I have indicated to the Prime Minister that it is important he agrees the right deal rather than a rushed deal.

“Solutions must be found which respect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom and its internal market and deal with the democratic deficit created by the protocol.

“This is the time for Brussels to stretch itself and demonstrate that it is prepared to restore the balance and help cement stability in Northern Ireland for the next generation.

“This is a process to correct the wrongs of the last negotiation.

“This process is not just about today or tomorrow it is about the next generation and giving them a foundation to build on.

“No one should be led by a calendar. Instead London, Brussels and Belfast should be focused on getting it right.”