UK Government has not resiled from stance over NI Protocol – Donaldson

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he does not detect that the UK has resiled from its position in Northern Ireland Protocol negotiations with the EU.

The DUP leader was speaking after the European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic on Friday welcomed what he called a “change in tone” from the UK in talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Sir Jeffrey, who was due to meet Brexit Minister Lord Frost in Belfast on Tuesday, said he has not detected that the UK Government has “resiled” from its stance.

Northern Ireland Protocol
EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic (Hollie Adams/PA)

“The Prime Minister said no later than last evening that it is entirely valid for the UK Government to trigger Article 16 in circumstances where agreement has not been reached in these negotiations,” he said.

“I’m taking the Government at what they were saying as being their position and I will test that further this evening with Lord Frost.

“But I don’t detect that the Government is resiling from a commitment to trigger Article 16, or to take other decisive action to restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK internal market, if these talks fail to reach an outcome in a short period of time.”

Earlier, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the protocol issues could be resolved before Christmas, following a meeting with Mr Sefcovic in Brussels.

Simon Coveney
Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA)

He said that was the EU hope, but added “we’ll see” by the weekend if that is “realistic or not”.

Sir Jeffrey said he wants to see progress “within a reasonable time” or he expects the Government to take decisive action, such as the triggering of Article 16.

“We are very clear that we need to see progress made. I have given time for these negotiations but I want to see outcomes, I want to see solutions that remove the Irish Sea border, that remove the barriers created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

“And I note with interest the comments made by the Prime Minister last night in his speech in London, in particular his defence of the use of Article 16 in circumstances where solutions and agreements are not found through this negotiating process,” he said.

“We will listen to what Lord Frost has to say, but we are very clear that time is marching on and we need to see these negotiations make real progress finding solutions, and if they don’t within a reasonable period then I expect the Government to take decisive action to address the difficulties created by this protocol and in particular to remove the barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

He added: “I welcome the fact that the EU seems to be taking a more serious approach to these negotiations. I welcome the fact that it appears the rhetoric is being dialled down and the work is being dialled up.

UUP leader Doug Beattie
UUP leader Doug Beattie (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie was also due to meet Lord Frost on Tuesday.

Ahead of the meeting, he said he was hoping for an “honest evaluation”.

He also called for the UK and EU to give Northern Ireland politicians more of a role in the process.

“We understand the problems better than most and we can come up with solutions better than most and until they start looking at involving us more this is going to just rumble on,” he said.

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