A senior DUP figure has said that Stormont must have “a say” in any future changes in EU regulations by which Northern Ireland would be bound – but has not said if that should be a veto.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the party’s chief whip at Westminster, made the comments today, just hours after DUP leader Arlene Foster appeared to indicate a significant softening of the party’s position and a willingness to compromise in order to get a Brexit deal.
Sir Jeffrey, who is seen as one of the DUP’s ‘doves’ on the question of post-Brexit arrangements, put his comments in the context of defending the 1998 Belfast Agreement, arguing that constitutionally significant cross-border cooperation required the agreement of both Stormont and the Irish government.
Speaking on Good Morning Ulster, Sir Jeffrey said that he imagined that both the North-South Ministerial Council and the cross-border bodies set up under the agreement would have a role in the new arrangements. He said that if the arrangements change in the future then the Assembly should “have a say”.
However, unless Stormont had a veto – something the EU has firmly opposed – then its views could simply be overridden. When asked if there should be a veto, Sir Jeffrey said: “If you want to expand cross-border cooperation, that has to be approved by both the Assembly and by the Irish parliament. That is what the agreement says.
“Now, if the objective of these new arrangements is to ‘protect the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement’ – and so say Dublin, so say the SDLP, Sinn Fein, the Alliance Party, et al – if that is the objective, then why would you want to remove the role from the Assembly in deciding whether you change the nature of that cooperation?”
Referring to future changes to EU regulations, he said: “If there are elected representatives from Northern Ireland who say we should have no say in that, then how do they propose we represent the people that elect them on matters that are important to all of us?”
Lord Empey, one of the UUP negotiators of the agreement, said it was ironic that the DUP was now reliant on the deal it once derided. He said: “We have indeed come to a strange place when the DUP is now publicly defending an agreement which they sought to destroy and did all they could to wreck, having finally realised that the only protection we now have is the Belfast Agreement. Ulster Unionists will be particularly interested in the comments from Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson, given that they left the UUP, supposedly because of the Belfast Agreement.”